For Some Refugees, Safe Haven Now Depends on a DNA Test | FRONTLINE | PBS

When Muna Guled, her husband and youngest daughter had been granted refugee standing in America two-and-a-half years in the past, their first precedence was to carry over Guled’s three different kids, nonetheless stranded in Ethiopia after escaping famine and violence in Somalia.

That dream will quickly turn into actuality — however for under two of the kids. The third, 17-year-old Roda, shouldn’t be technically Guled’s daughter. She is her niece, who Guled unofficially adopted after the lady’s mom went lacking and her father and grandparents died.

Up to now, this may not have been an impediment. However the USA now requires refugees hoping to reunite with their households to show that they’re associated — both via a DNA take a look at, or with official adoption paperwork, which will be inconceivable to acquire in war-torn international locations. So when Guled’s two organic kids board a aircraft to satisfy their mom and sister in Ohio within the coming months, Roda will seemingly be left behind.

This has been devastating information for the household.

“Roda doesn’t have anyone else. She is scared of what’s going to occur to her alone. She is scared she will likely be kidnapped by dangerous folks,” stated Guled via her 16-year-old daughter Awo, who translated by cellphone. “Roda has stated she is going to kill herself if she can not come.”

Awo paused.

“Only a second, my mom is crying once more,” she stated.

The household’s story highlights the problems which have arisen because the federal authorities has tightened constraints on the principle program refugees have used to reunite with household within the U.S. By means of the late Nineteen Nineties, this system was answerable for 15 to twenty % of all refugee arrivals in America, however due to a sequence of restrictions imposed since then, it at present accounts for lower than 1 %. The modifications have stymied fraud — as they had been meant to. However at a time when the U.S. is bracing for hundreds of recent functions for shelter from refugees displaced by struggle in Syria, the restrictions have slowed — and in some instances outright denied — authentic entries into the nation.


Battle can scatter households throughout continents — a actuality lengthy acknowledged by U.S. refugee coverage. Shortly after the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was signed into existence by President Ronald Reagan in 1980, the company established a household reunification program for refugees — now generally known as the P-3 program — permitting immigrants to carry over members of the family fleeing disaster.

Within the years earlier than 9/11, as many as 13,000 refugees a yr joined kinfolk within the U.S. via this system, in line with State Division statistics.

Suspecting fraud, immigration officers started to rein in this system. Beginning in 1999, they no longer allowed prolonged households — siblings, grandparents, nieces and nephews — to use for entry, confining this system to spouses, kids and fogeys. In 2004, the Bush administration curbed this system additional. As a substitute of creating this system out there to any immigrant who arrived within the U.S. legally, it would solely be out there to these who had been granted refugee standing or asylum.

However the struggle in Syria, which has displaced greater than 4 million from their properties, is fueling requires the Obama administration to ease a few of these restrictions. The U.S. has introduced plans to take up a minimum of 10,000 Syrian refugees over the subsequent yr, and as soon as they arrive in America, these refugees will be capable to use the P-3 program.

Till then, although, the tens of hundreds of Syrians already in the U.S. via different immigration packages are barred from utilizing it to reunite with members of the family displaced by the violence. As a substitute, their main different is a separate visa program that at present has an eight-year ready checklist.

Earlier this month, 84 members of Congress despatched a letter to the Obama administration asking it to increase P-3 eligibility. Rep. Invoice Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), one of many letter’s authors, advised FRONTLINE in an announcement that it made sense to simply accept refugees who have already got assist within the U.S.

“These households would have a house prepared for them, a supply of monetary assist, and the dedication to return to assist rebuild Syria after the struggle is over,” he stated.

A State Division official confirmed receiving the letter however declined to remark additional.


Even when these restrictions are loosened, refugees making use of for household reunification will face one other hurdle to clear: DNA testing.

The inspiration for this requirement was born in East Africa, the place greater than 1 million Somalians have been displaced from their nation by civil struggle and famine. Within the mid-2000s, the U.S. was offering refuge to about 10,000 Somalians a yr — lots of whom went on to use to the household reunification program to carry over kinfolk.

Immigration officers suspected that some had been inventing “ghost kids,” and filling out functions for kids not associated to them. There had even been some studies of brokers who bought the ghost kids’s slots for revenue, in line with a U.S. Division of State official who spoke to FRONTLINE however requested to not be named.

So in early 2008, the State Division launched a pilot program to find out the extent of fraud by testing relationships utilizing DNA.

Within the preliminary pilot of 476 candidates in Nairobi, Kenya, solely 16 % had been genetically associated to each particular person they stated was of their household. One other 39 % examined false for a minimum of one member of the family. Within the remaining 45 % of instances, candidates both refused to take part or didn’t present up for the take a look at.

Officers interpreted these outcomes as proof of widespread fraud. The P-3 program was suspended, and didn’t reopen for greater than 4 years.

This surprised refugees all over the world, lots of whom had spent years ready for P-3 functions to be authorized. Most had been advised to use for an alternate visa, however it was much more restrictive than P-3 and shortly had a multi-year ready checklist.

The suspension was likewise criticized by refugee advocates, who argued that fraud wasn’t the one rationalization for the pilot program’s outcomes. For instance, if a household had 5 kids and only one examined false, they’d all be counted as fraudulent. And if any member of the household didn’t present up for a take a look at, that household would even be thought of fraudulent, even when the no-show was for a authentic purpose.


Critics additionally took purpose on the slim “nuclear household” idea that DNA exams impose, famous a report by the  Immigration Coverage Heart, a nonpartisan immigration analysis group. Throughout struggle, kids whose mother and father are lifeless or lacking are normally taken in by kinfolk or neighbors. Official adoption paperwork shouldn’t be the norm.

“It’s utterly tone-deaf to the realities that refugees face,” says Jen Smyers, director of coverage and advocacy with the Church World Service Refugee and Immigration Program, a refugee resettlement company. “In Nairobi there are girls who, once they had been fleeing their village that was being burned, encountered a small baby on the aspect of the highway and picked it up and ended up elevating it for the subsequent 5 years. They know in the event that they’re requested, ‘Did this baby come out of your physique?’ and say ‘No,’ they gained’t be capable to carry the kid with them. So they are saying sure. That’s fraud, however it’s not gaming the system.”

There will be issues even when a baby does belong to the mom, famous lawyer Emily Holland in “Transferring the Digital Border to the Mobile Stage,” revealed within the California Regulation Evaluation: DNA exams can flip up “long-buried cases of infidelity and rape, typically hid because of concern, stigma and disgrace.” Uncovering them can introduce new crises to already traumatized households.

The United Nations Refugee Company has really helpful that refugee staff affirm relationships with paperwork, interviews and different instruments, and argues that DNA exams needs to be used solely as a “final resort.”

However when the P-3 program was lastly reinstated in 2012, it got here with the requirement that each one parent-child relationships be proved via DNA exams, or by official adoption papers. Refugees pay for the DNA exams, which may value a number of hundred {dollars}, however are reimbursed for optimistic exams.

Since then, fewer than 100 folks have arrived in the U.S. annually via the household reunification program, whereas a whole bunch of extra openings went unfilled. The State Division official stated it’s doable these figures may develop as extra folks work via the brand new necessities, however that household reunification was unlikely to return to its former numbers.

David Martin, a legislation professor on the College of Virginia who helped form the Refugee Act of 1980 and has labored with each administration since then to refine it, famous that there isn’t any straightforward method to the issue. Even these instances which might be fraudulent are sometimes “residing lives of determined privation” and badly in want of relocation, he stated. However so are hundreds of others, and it’s past the capability of the U.S. refugee program to take all of them.

“So that you make decisions, and when the selection is to order some spots for members of the family, it makes sense to verify they’re actually members of the family,” he stated.

He famous that the system does have some flexibility and may make exceptions to the DNA rule on a case by case foundation to accommodate extraordinary circumstances.

Muna Guled hopes her household’s circumstances will enable them to discover a method to carry her niece to America. Her different two kids had been residing in Mogadishu with their organic father, however they and Roda have now moved to Ethiopia as a result of it is going to be simpler to affix their household within the U.S. from there. Guled’s two organic kids have handed the DNA take a look at and they are able to fly to Ohio earlier than the tip of the yr.

Guled’s daughter, Awo, has turn into fluent in English in her two-and-a-half years in Columbus. She says she likes her new life in America.

“I believe my life is simply beginning now, I’m getting a superb schooling, I really feel good in America,” Awo stated. “I simply marvel when my brother and my sisters can come and luxuriate in with me this stunning life.”

Katie Worth

Katie Price, Former Reporter, FRONTLINE

When — and where — is it safe to stop wearing a mask? Experts weigh in : Shots

A household carrying face masks walks by Union Station in Los Angeles, California, January 5, 2022. Los Angeles ended its masks mandate just lately, as did quite a few different states and cities.

Robyn Beck/AFP by way of Getty Photos

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A household carrying face masks walks by Union Station in Los Angeles, California, January 5, 2022. Los Angeles ended its masks mandate just lately, as did quite a few different states and cities.

Robyn Beck/AFP by way of Getty Photos

Friday’s change in masking steerage from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention comes as many states and cities throughout the U.S. are beginning to – or have already got – ease up on masks mandates.

In response to the brand new CDC metrics, about 70% of the U.S. inhabitants lives in a spot the place they not want to put on a masks to guard themselves and others. Their calculation is predicated on three variables: charges of latest circumstances, new hospital admissions and hospital capability.

However infectious illness specialists surveyed by NPR say they are not ditching their masks simply but. Many nonetheless plan to put on them as a result of they reside in part of the nation the place the coronavirus remains to be spreading extensively – at the very least in the meanwhile.

When would they really feel comfy eating in, educating and grocery procuring sans masks? They shared their private threat calculations with NPR.

Search for low neighborhood transmission – however how low?

The CDC’s new emphasis on hospitalization charges is warranted, however that metric is not essentially one of the best information when contemplating your particular person threat, says Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins College. He and different specialists nonetheless take a look at native an infection charges once they weigh their private precautions.

Dowdy says he is vaccinated and boosted and feels well-protected from hospitalization, however he is nonetheless making an attempt to keep away from catching COVID.

“I simply do not wish to be out of labor. I do not wish to be spreading it to my household and making them need to miss work and faculty,” he says. “And so from that perspective, circumstances truly matter greater than hospitalizations”

Dr. Robert Wachter says he is ready for each day case charges in his neighborhood to drop right down to 10 circumstances per 100,000 folks per day.

“There’s nothing magic in regards to the quantity 10,” says Wachter, chair of the division of drugs at College of California, San Francisco. “If another person prefers 15 or 20, that is advantageous.” He is searching for a quantity that “implies a decrease quantity of virus in the neighborhood.”

In California, the place Wachter lives, the charges are presently round 24 per 100,000 folks per day and falling. And he’s beginning to make exceptions to masking up when there’s a sufficiently big profit, which for him consists of consuming at a restaurant indoors.

The variety of new circumstances per capita can also be guiding Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the college of public well being on the College of Nebraska, in deciding to masks or not.

Khan wish to see about 5 to 10 circumstances per 100,000 folks per day earlier than going mask-free. “My need was by no means to have people carrying masks eternally – it was actually to get ranges of transmission in the neighborhood low sufficient in order that we may very well be protected,” he says. “I haven’t got a high-risk situation, so I will be taking off my masks in about two to a few weeks when circumstances get down in my neighborhood.”

A consumer wears a masks at a grocery retailer in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2022. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced that she’s going to let DC’s masks mandate expire on the finish of the month.

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A consumer wears a masks at a grocery retailer in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2022. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced that she’s going to let DC’s masks mandate expire on the finish of the month.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP by way of Getty Photos

Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of an infection prevention on the Johns Hopkins Well being System, agrees that she wish to see the case price “in single digits” earlier than she’s comfy with out a masks. She’s looking ahead to a each day case price of 1 to five per 100,000 within the rolling 7- to 14-day common.

Day by day COVID case charges should not an ideal guideline for taking (or giving up) precautions, Wachter acknowledges, particularly as extra folks use residence exams that do not get reported within the nationwide numbers. Nonetheless, he says, decreased ranges of neighborhood transmission are an excellent sign that “that the system shouldn’t be being super-stressed; that hospitals should not overwhelmed; that I will have entry to a take a look at and that I might need entry to therapies [if needed].”

A pattern sustained over time

It isn’t nearly what number of circumstances are being reported, although.

Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious illness doctor at Stanford College, appears at what number of exams are coming again optimistic, what’s referred to as the take a look at positivity price.

If there’s a sustained take a look at positivity price under 1% – with out an uptick – Karan says “the prospect of resurgence or neighborhood outbreaks is way, a lot decrease.” Take a look at positivity might be discovered for a lot of counties within the authorities’s Neighborhood Profile dataset or on a state well being division’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“With excessive neighborhood incidence proper now, I’d not be eradicating my masks in indoor settings,” says Karan of his neighborhood.

Instances are falling the place Karan lives in California, as they’re in a lot of the U.S. If folks begin taking off their masks in response and case counts keep low, he says that is an encouraging signal: “We might very properly purchase ourselves an excellent spring.”

Different well being professionals haven’t got a strict quantity in thoughts. “There’ll come a time the place the transmission price [reaches a plateau] and it is not budging. At that time, I will simply decide,” says Dr. José Romero, well being secretary for the state of Arkansas. Elements he’ll take into account at that time embody how properly the vaccines are holding up and whether or not COVID remedies are extensively accessible.

A everlasting accent – as a part of a layered threat technique

Masking does not need to be an all-or-nothing alternative, both.

Even when Romero of Arkansas feels comfy grocery procuring with out a masks, “I am unsure I will abandon it fully,” he says. Just like the bottle of hand sanitizer in his backpack, he considers masks simply one other measure to guard himself, particularly throughout occasions when the dangers are increased.

A diner holds a masks exterior a restaurant in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. The state’s indoor masks requirement expired.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg by way of Getty Photos

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A diner holds a masks exterior a restaurant in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. The state’s indoor masks requirement expired.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg by way of Getty Photos

Masks have turn out to be a everlasting accent for Seema Lakdawala, a virologist on the College of Pittsburgh. “It is a very nice complement to the vaccines,” she causes: “If I am carrying a masks and any individual else in my setting is contaminated, I will breathe in much less virus. Even when I do turn out to be contaminated, the infectious dose would maybe be low sufficient that my immunity from vaccination can present a powerful sufficient barrier and assist me get better.”

Virtually talking, “If circumstances are low, possibly I will go and pop right into a retailer with out a masks on,” she says, “However I will preserve a masks in my automobile or in my jacket pocket. And if I wish to, I will simply pull it out and put it on.”

Consideration for high-risk folks and their households

In fact, selections about masking are private. They’ll differ for sure teams, together with these at excessive threat of extreme COVID, unable to be vaccinated or residing with somebody who falls into both of these two earlier classes.

Although her youngest little one is now six and vaccinated, Lakdawala says it is sensible for households with younger youngsters to proceed to be extra conservative about COVID dangers. “I do assume if I had youngsters beneath 5, I’d nonetheless be very involved about a few of the environments that we might go [to],” says Lakdawala.

For individuals who are equally cautious throughout this transitional interval, a top quality, correctly fitted N95 or KN95 masks can present a considerable quantity of safety to the wearer, even when others in a public setting should not carrying a masks. Nonetheless, there are locations the place Maragakis thinks masks necessities for everybody ought to stay in place.

“We have to perceive and handle the people who find themselves most weak amongst us by not forcing everybody into conditions the place they have to be in shut contact with maskless folks,”

Maragakis says requiring masks for some time longer would make sense in some settings, together with on public transit.

Yuki Noguchi contributed to this report.