Although the article in today’s New York Times – “DNA Tests Offer Immigrants Hope or Despair” by Rachel L. Swarns – uses traditional paternity or maternity tests and not genetic genealogy tests, the emotional results of the tested can often be the same. What if DNA proves that your father isn’t your biological father? What happens when there is uncontestable proof that there was an NPE (non-paternal event) in your great-grandfather’s ancestry?
According to the article, federal officials in the Immigration Department are using “genetic testing to verify the biological bonds between new citizens and the overseas relatives they hope to bring here, particularly those from war-torn or developing countries where identity documents can be scarce or doctored.”
For example, Isaac has been in the U.S. away from his native Ghana and his four boys for 14 years. When he became an American citizen and the Immigration Department suggested that he take a DNA test to prove the biological relationship to his four sons, he agreed. Unfortunately, only the oldest boy was his biological child. That child could come to the U.S., but Isaac would have to find another way to bring over the other three children.
How often does this happen? “Mary K. Mount, a DNA testing expert for the A.A.B.B. – formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks – estimates that about 75,000 of the 390,000 DNA cases that involved families in 2004 were immigration cases. Of those, she estimates, 15 percent to 20 percent do not produce a match.” That’s over 10,000 cases in one year alone!
Interestingly, many lawyers working with immigrants believe that the government’s use of DNA testing burdens immigrants because of the high price of the testing – as much as $450 to test a parent and child. As well, federal officials “acknowledge that genetic testing can carry an emotional toll.”
This is true for any type of testing, be it a paternity test, an mtDNA test, or (someday) a full genomic sequencing. Everyone has a picture of their own past in their mind, a collection of beliefs and identities that they’ve learned or heard or perhaps have made up. Evidence of another past based on DNA can often shatter those beliefs.
As these families struggle to come to terms with the results of the testing, they often come to the conclusion that the biological definition of family is not the only definition available. My favorite line in the story comes from Balfour Francis, a 44-year-old Jamaican-born welder in Brooklyn who is trying to have his daughter join him in America. After the DNA test showed that he is not the girl’s father, he stated, “I will not let anybody dictate who is my child.” Although the results can be painful and have a severe emotional toll, they do not change the love a parent has for a child.
As for Isaac, his immigration lawyer determined “that he could petition for the teenagers as their stepfather. He must prove that the boys are the children of his deceased wife. Isaac hopes that a DNA test of one of his wife’s siblings, which could be compared with that of the teenagers, would provide that proof.”
I highly recommend reading this article if you are interested in DNA testing. I’m sure that this will spark another wave of insightful and interesting discussion on the blogosphere, similar to the very controversial article I discussed previously here.