Southwest Border: CBP Should Improve Data Collection, Reporting, and Assessment for Missing Migrants Program

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What the GAO found

The US Border Patrol established the Missing Migrant Program in 2017 to help rescue migrants in distress and reduce migrant deaths along the southwest border. Border Patrol issued procedures nationwide in September 2021 and has coordinated with external entities (e.g., state and local authorities) and undertaken various efforts to help reduce the frequency of migrant deaths. In particular, the national procedures aim to help standardize how Border Patrol coordinates with external entities to respond to and follow up on reports of missing and deceased migrants. Border Patrol has also undertaken various efforts to help respond to migrants who may be in distress. These efforts include placing rescue beacons and 9-1-1 signs in remote areas.

Memorial for a migrant who died on the southwestern border

Border Patrol has not collected and recorded, or reported to Congress, comprehensive data on migrant deaths, or disclosed associated data limitations. Specifically, Border Patrol’s 2020 fiscal year report to Congress did not contain complete data because the agency did not record all available information on migrant deaths from external entities in its system of record. nor describes these data limitations in the report. By taking additional steps to ensure that it collects and records available information on migrant deaths, including all known migrant deaths discovered by external entities, and including known migrant deaths and any limitations on given in public and congressional reports, Border Patrol would improve the information it provides. in Congress.

Border Patrol collects and reviews information from the field regarding its implementation of the Missing Migrants Program. However, he has no plan to evaluate the program as a whole. Border Patrol Headquarters uses weekly field reports to monitor the status of the Missing Migrants Program. These reports are positive steps to help the agency monitor activities on the ground. However, Border Patrol could benefit from a more robust evaluation of the impacts of the Missing Migrant Program to reduce the frequency of migrant deaths and strengthen Border Patrol’s efforts to respond to migrants in distress. Developing a Missing Migrants Program Evaluation Plan would better position the Border Patrol to assess its progress in achieving program goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

Border Patrol, within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), responds to reports of migrants attempting to enter the United States between ports of entry who may be missing or in distress. A committee report accompanying the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) fiscal year 2020 appropriations asked CBP to report data on migrant deaths, outline plans to help reduce the number of migrant deaths, and to share its coordination efforts with external entities. The joint explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2021 included a provision for the GAO to review the CBP report and its efforts to mitigate migrant deaths.

This report discusses (1) how the Border Patrol implemented the Missing Migrants Program to help reduce the frequency of migrant deaths; (2) the extent to which Border Patrol collects and reports complete and accurate data on migrant deaths; and (3) how Border Patrol evaluates the Missing Migrants Program. GAO analyzed Border Patrol policies and documentation, interviewed officials from Border Patrol headquarters and four field sites, as well as five external entities, such as medical examiners.

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