Throwback Thursday: How a DNA Test Broke an Immigration Officer’s Heart

Years ago, when I was a very green young attorney, I had a client who had been kidnapped and tortured under a brutal totalitarian dictatorship. The client, whom I will call Alonzo, was a prominent political dissident who managed to bribe his way out of captivity. Covered in torture scars, Alonzo fled to the United States, leaving five children behind. After winning political asylum, Alonzo filed visa petitions for his children to join him. The children’s fates thus landed in my very inexperienced hands. 

In Alonzo’s home country, formal adoption procedures exist, but they are often not used. Society generally accepts a child as yours if you claim him and no one contests it. Why, after all, would you want another mouth to feed? Under U.S. immigration law, however, a parent cannot file a visa petition for an adopted child unless formal adoption procedures took place before the child reached a certain age. Unknown to me, one of Alonzo’s children was adopted, but the adoption was never formalized. 

I compiled a thick visa petition package, including photo after photo of Alonzo with his children in their home, at different ages, celebrating birthdays and holidays. The package left no doubt that this was a loving and close-knit family. But the U.S. consulate that processed the visas abroad wanted DNA tests to confirm Alonzo’s paternity. DNA tests are expensive, and a real hardship for uprooted refugees who have lost all their worldly goods. There is little doubt, however, that they make a consular officer’s job much easier. If the results are good, the relationship is good.

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