Uniting Families Act of 2016 (HR 5742, 114th Congress)

The Policy

What it does

Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow the admission of certain sons and daughters of citizens of the United States who are or have served in the Armed Forces abroad.


The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA; 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.) controls the movement of immigrants and nonimmigrants into the United States. H.R. 5742 amends several sections of the INA to allow for the entrance of children of citizens who have served in the Armed Forces abroad. Specifically, the bill allows a service member’s son or daughter (a “beneficiary”) to enter as a nonimmigrant, defined in the INA as an individual with permanent residence outside the United States. Spouses or children of beneficiaries may also enter as nonimmigrants if “accompanying” or “following to join” the beneficiary. Eligible beneficiary children must be 18 years of age or older; all persons entering the country under this bill can acquire a nonimmigrant visa for five years (with a possible two-year extension) once the citizen parent of a beneficiary files a petition with the Secretary of Homeland Security.

This petition must include:

  • DNA evidence that the beneficiary is the biological child of the citizen parent petitioner;
  • Agreement from the petitioner to bear financial responsibility for the beneficiary until/unless the beneficiary is lawfully admitted for permanent residence;
  • Evidence that the petitioner is a citizen of the United States; and
  • Evidence of the petitioner’s prior service as an active duty Armed Forces member abroad.

Admitted beneficiaries and their spouses or children are also eligible to acquire permanent residence as a lawfully admitted alien or to be naturalized, depending on their status under other sections of the INA and approval by the Secretary of Homeland Security. 


The Science

Science Synopsis

This bill’s provisions rely on a DNA test to indicate a beneficiary is truly the child of a citizen service member. DNA is the molecule containing our genetic code and is 99% identical among all humans, but the remaining 1% can be different enough to determine parentage. Because a person gets half of his/her DNA from each parent, individuals who are related share specific variable genetic patterns that unrelated people might not share. DNA tests can verify biological parentage with 99.5% accuracy or greater.

Determining biological parentage is done through a process called DNA profiling (also known as genetic fingerprinting). DNA profiling analyzes the genetic material of two individuals to determine if the profiles are similar enough to indicate a relationship.

To create a DNA profile, DNA is isolated from a biological sample (e.g., blood or saliva). The isolated DNA is analyzed for distinct patterns that differ among humans, and these patterns can then be compared between individuals. When comparing samples between individuals, statistical analysis is used to assess whether any similarities are coincidence or instead result from a biological relationship.

DNA testing for immigration applications is not done by law enforcement or government authorities, but through a private laboratory. Non-medical DNA testing for legal purposes (e.g., civil, immigration, paternity) require DNA testing to be conducted in laboratories accredited by the AABB (formerly, the American Association of Blood Banks).

Relevant Experts

Sara Katsanis, MS is a Duke University instructor in the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. Her research focuses on policies for DNA testing in law enforcement and human rights contexts.

Katsanis: “In this legislation, we see use of genetic information as a tool for verifying relationship status of an American veteran immigration petitioner to a foreign born adult child. This approach is valuable for reducing fraudulent relationship claims, but using DNA to define a ‘family member’ may conflict with the societal definitions of ‘family.’ It is important to use genetic information only as a tool in immigration and not as a required metric for approving a visa petition. In this case, DNA is used in a narrow context that also could inform international cases of paternity. The restriction to adult children appears to restrict the implications for custody lawsuits.”

Jennifer K. Wagner, JD, PhD is the associate director of Bioethics Research for the Geisinger Health System. Dr. Wagner’s research is focused on the intersection of anthropology, genetics, law, and bioethics, with her most recent research focusing on DNA ancestry testing, sports application of personal genetics, and genetic rights as human rights.

The Debate

Endorsements & Opposition

At present, there have not been publicly reported endorsements or opposition to this bill.