Illegal Immigration: Border-Crossing Deaths Have Doubled Since 1995; Border Patrol's Efforts to Prevent Deaths Have Not Been Fully Evaluated.

GAO-06-770 Published: Aug 15, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2006.
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Reports in recent years have indicated that increasing numbers of migrants attempting to enter the United States illegally die while crossing the southwest border. The Border Patrol implemented the Border Safety Initiative (BSI) in 1998 with the intention of reducing injuries and preventing deaths among migrants that attempt to cross the border illegally. GAO assessed: (1) Trends in the numbers, locations, causes, and characteristics of border-crossing deaths. (2) Differences among the Border Patrol sectors in implementing the BSI methodology. (3) The extent to which existing data allow for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the BSI and other efforts to prevent border-crossing deaths.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Customs and Border Protection In order to improve the consistency across Border Patrol sectors in the implementation of the BSI methodology and the completeness of data on deaths in any given year, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection should take steps to ensure that BSI sector coordinators follow a consistent protocol for collecting and recording information about border-crossing deaths and that all coordinators follow established procedures for maintaining and documenting regular contacts with local authorities to obtain timely information about all bordercrossing deaths within the BSI target zone.
Closed – Implemented
In August 2006, we reported on trends in deaths among migrants that attempt to cross the border illegally and the extent to which existing data allow for an evaluation of Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) efforts to prevent border-crossing deaths through its Border Safety Initiative (BSI) (GAO-06 770). In the report, we noted that not all BSI sector coordinators consistently implemented the established guidelines for collecting and recording data on migrant deaths and that these differences can contribute to incomplete counts of deaths. As a result, we recommended that CBP ensure that BSI sector coordinators follow consistent protocols for collecting migrant death data from local authorities. CBP agreed with this recommendation and in October 2007, CBP officials reported that they established a working group that reviewed the BSI protocol for collecting, recording, and reporting border-crossing deaths. According to written documents provided by CBP, officials also revised the BSI Methodology to prevent inconsistencies in the data collection process and to outline roles and responsibilities across organizational lines. Specifically, the BSI Methodology now requires the BSI sector coordinator to establish liaison with local officials to obtain information on those undocumented migrant deaths in which the Border Patrol was not involved. The Methodology further states that each BSI sector coordinator must document their contact with state, local, and tribal officials to ensure that the reporting and documentation of all BSI related deaths in their sector are accurately recorded. The revised protocol is consistent with our recommendation and should help CBP to improve its methods for collecting data in order to more accurately record deaths as changes occur in the locations where migrants attempt to cross the border and consequently where migrants die. As a result of this improved data collection, CBP will be able to better make accurate planning and resource allocation decisions relative to the Border Safety Initiative and their ongoing search and rescue efforts.
United States Customs and Border Protection In order to better demonstrate the effectiveness of the Border Patrol's efforts to reduce migrant deaths, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection should assess the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using multivariate statistical approaches to enhance estimates of impacts of the initiatives.
Closed – Not Implemented
In February 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contacted GAO regarding the status of the recommendation and stated that it is unclear how a "multivariate statistical approach" could in any way assist the Border Patrol in reducing overall border deaths. CBP further stated that: "We continue to believe that, while our humanitarian efforts do make a difference in rescuing or saving even one life, acquiring the expertise of an outside statistical consultant, during a time when our budget has been severely limited for non-programmatic operations, would detour the very funds needed to save lives vis-a-vis the BSI [Border Safety Initiative] program to evaluating the BSI program. Employing a multivariate statistical approach will be very costly, time consuming, and in our opinion, is not likely to yield anything of value to further the safety of the illegal aliens". As a result of CBP's concerns regarding their ability to implement the recommendation, GAO agreed to close the recommendation as not implemented.

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