Southwest Border: CBP Should Improve Data Collection, Reporting, and Evaluation for the Missing Migrant Program
Migrants attempting to enter the U.S. illegally along the southwest border risk injury or death by crossing in remote areas. Border Patrol implemented the Missing Migrant Program to help rescue migrants in distress and reduce migrant deaths.
In September 2021, Border Patrol issued procedures to, among other things, help standardize how the agency tracks reports of deceased migrants. But Border Patrol hasn't collected or recorded complete data on migrant deaths and does not have a plan to evaluate how the program is working. We recommended that Border Patrol address these issues.
Sign at the southwest border instructing migrants to call 911 for help
What GAO Found
The U.S. Border Patrol set up the Missing Migrant Program in 2017 to help rescue migrants in distress and reduce migrant deaths along the southwest border. Border Patrol issued nationwide procedures in September 2021, and has coordinated with external entities (e.g., state and local officials) and undertook various efforts to help reduce the frequency of migrant deaths. In particular, the nationwide procedures are intended to help standardize how Border Patrol coordinates with external entities to respond to and track 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 placards in remote areas.
Memorial for a Deceased Migrant in the Southwest Border
Border Patrol has not collected and recorded, or reported to Congress, complete data on migrant deaths, or disclosed associated data limitations. Specifically, Border Patrol's fiscal year 2020 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, or describe 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 data limitations in public and Congressional reports, Border Patrol would improve the information it provides to Congress.
Border Patrol collects and reviews information at the field level about its implementation of the Missing Migrant Program. However, it does not have a plan to evaluate the program overall. Border Patrol headquarters uses weekly field reports to monitor the status of the Missing Migrant Program. These reports are positive steps to help the agency monitor field activities. 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 plan to evaluate the Missing Migrant Program would better position Border Patrol to assess its progress in meeting the program's 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 U.S. 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 appropriation directed CBP to report data on migrant deaths, describe plans to help reduce the number of migrant deaths, and share its coordination efforts with external entities. The Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the fiscal year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act included a provision for GAO to review CBP's report and its efforts to mitigate migrant deaths.
This report addresses (1) how Border Patrol has implemented the Missing Migrant 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 Migrant Program. GAO analyzed Border Patrol policies and documentation, interviewed officials at Border Patrol headquarters and four field locations, and from five external entities, such as medical examiners.
GAO is making three recommendations to Border Patrol to take steps to ensure it collects and records available information on migrant deaths, including those identified by external entities; include known migrant deaths and any data limitations in public and Congressional reports; and develop a plan to evaluate the Missing Migrant Program. DHS concurred with the recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|U.S. Border Patrol||The Chief of Border Patrol should take steps to ensure that the agency collects and records available information on migrant deaths, including those identified by external entities, along the southwest border. (Recommendation 1)||
Border Patrol concurred with our recommendation and has taken several steps to address it. For example, in May 2022, Border Patrol sent the Missing Migrant Program sector coordinators an email restating the definition of a reportable death that emphasized that incidents meeting this definition must be recorded in the system of record for migrant death information. Additionally, Border Patrol officials told us that in September and October 2022, headquarters officials visited 6 locations to review program activities at the field level. During these visits, headquarters officials also met with Missing Migrant Program field coordinators to discuss data entry into the system of record for migrant death information. Further, In November 2022 the Missing Migrant Program held a summit and adopted a recommendation to revise the program's national procedures to capture best management practices learned since its implementation. The program plans to issue the revised national procedures in the spring of 2023. While these are positive steps, to fully address the intent of our recommendation, Border Patrol needs to complete its planned actions and further ensure that sectors are collecting and recording available information on migrant deaths.
|U.S. Border Patrol||The Chief of Border Patrol should include known migrant deaths, including those reported by external entities, and any data limitations in public agency reports and those to Congress. (Recommendation 2)||
Border Patrol concurred with this recommendation and has actions planned or underway to address it. For example, Border Patrol is capturing data on its sectors' engagement with external entities, such as medical examiners and coroners, non-governmental organizations, and law enforcement agencies along the southwest border. According to Border Patrol, these engagements may help the agency identify possible data limitations, such as migrant deaths that were not previously known to Border Patrol. While these are positive steps, in order to fully address this recommendation Border Patrol needs to complete its planned actions and include limitations in public agency reports and those to Congress.
|U.S. Border Patrol||The Chief of Border Patrol should develop a plan with time frames to evaluate the Missing Migrant Program. (Recommendation 3)||
Border Patrol concurred with our recommendation and has actions underway to address it. For example, the Missing Migrant Program held a sector coordinator meeting in April 2022 where, among other actions, they established goals and objectives for the program. The Missing Migrant Program held another coordinator meeting in November 2022. Border Patrol stated that they plan to evaluate the program goals, reporting procedures and data integrity at the coordinator meetings. Border Patrol also stated that they will create an annual plan to discuss program goals and timeframes, and that they will issue after-action reports summarizing the coordinator meetings. To fully address the intent of our recommendation, Border Patrol should document its plan to evaluate the program and include time frames.