This project will address the ethical, legal and social implications of the use of genetic testing as part of US immigration procedures for family reunification. Last year, approximately two-thirds of immigrants who came to the US as legal permanent residents were family sponsored under the family reunification provision. Under this provision a sponsor, who must be a US citizen or permanent resident, petitions to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to bring his or her family members (spouse, children, parents or siblings) to the U. S. As part of the application process, the sponsor is required to show proof of alleged family relationships. This is typically done through documentation (e.g. birth certificates). But when documents are lacking or insufficient, or fraud is suspected, US immigration officials may suggest DNA testing (parentage or sibling testing) as a way to verify family relationships. In the past several years, DNA testing has become more frequent in immigration procedures, but the impact such testing may have on immigrants, their families or their communities, is not known. The objective of this study is to explore the positive and negative effects DNA testing may have on Mexican families, the largest immigrant group (14 percent) entering the US in the past year, particularly how test results might impact family relationships, social adaptability, and psychological well-being.
The specific aims of the study are to use interviews with Mexican families to (1) Identify how Mexican immigrant families define and understand their familial ties to one another;and (2) Examine Mexican immigrant families'perceptions about the potential effects (positive and negative) of using genetic testing to prove alleged family relationships as part of the family reunification process in immigration. Endings from this research will be used to (3) Develop educational materials including (a) an informational brochure for immigrants planning to sponsor a family member under family re- unification provisions and (b) an ethical """"""""points-to-consider"""""""" document to inform policy-makers, advocates and immigrant communities about findings of the study and their implications for the use of DNA testing in family re-unification Relevance to public health: Family reunification policies are based on the understanding that the reunion of immigrant family members with their close relatives supports their psychological well-being and in so doing promotes the health and welfare of the United States. This study will assess the implications of new genetic technology for its potential positive and negative effects on this important immigration policy.

Public Health Relevance

My ultimate career goal is to become an academic researcher focusing on the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic technologies in society. My particular research goal in this proposal, supported by my experiences as an immigrant, is to explore the intersection of law and policy with genetic science in the development of immigration policy. The proposed research will consider the use of genetic testing immigration procedures for family re-unification, and will explore the potential impact of genetic testing in the context of immigrant perspectives on how families are defined and family ties constructed. This project will enable me to develop research and analytical skills in social science and law. Research and writing done through this training grant will be part of my doctoral dissertation, which will more broadly consider how the use of genetic testing influences the health and social structure of immigrant families and communities. In addition to developing specific research skills and producing a body of knowledge about Mexican immigrant perspectives on the use of genetic testing in family re-unification, this project will help to prepare me for a career as an independent investigator addressing ethical and policy questions relating to genetic science,'After completion of my PhD, 1 anticipate pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship in a setting where I can continue policy-relevant research related to genomics and the needs and concerns of immigrant and other minority communities, and subsequently seeking a faculty position where 1 can continue and further develop this work.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPHB-K (29))
Program Officer
Thomson, Elizabeth
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Washington
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Barata, Llilda P; Starks, Helene; Kelley, Maureen et al. (2015) WHAT DNA CAN AND CANNOT SAY: PERSPECTIVES OF IMMIGRANT FAMILIES ABOUT THE USE OF GENETIC TESTING IN IMMIGRATION. Stanford Law Pol Rev 26:597-638
1000 Genomes Project Consortium; Abecasis, Gonçalo R; Altshuler, David et al. (2010) A map of human genome variation from population-scale sequencing. Nature 467:1061-73