The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) organization has not collected or recorded complete data for its Missing Migrant Program, and lacks a plan to evaluate the program’s ongoing development, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). CBP is a component agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Missing Migrant Program was established by CBP in 2017 to help rescue migrants in distress and reduce migrant deaths along the U.S. southwest border. However, the agency’s fiscal year 2020 report to Congress did not contain complete data because CBP failed to collect all available data on migrant deaths. The agency also failed to disclose any associated data limitations in the report, GAO said.

“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,” the GAO report notes.

In September 2021, CBP undertook several procedures intended to help standardize how it coordinates with external entities to respond to and track reports of missing and deceased migrants. However, GAO still found that CBP must take further action to improve data collection, reporting, and evaluation of its Missing Migrant Program.

The report also found that CBP does not have a plan to evaluate the program overall. At the same time, GAO acknowledged that the agency uses weekly field reports to monitor the status of the Missing Migrant Program, and these reports can be positive steps to help the agency monitor field activities.

However, “CBP could benefit from a more robust evaluation of the impacts of the Missing Migrant Program to reduce the frequency of migrant deaths and strengthen CBP’s efforts to respond to migrants in distress,” the report says. “Developing a plan to evaluate the Missing Migrant Program would better position CBP to assess its progress in meeting the program’s goals.”

GAO made three recommendations to CBP regarding the issues that it flagged in the report:

  • CBP Chief 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.
  • CBP Chief should include known migrant deaths, including those reported by external entities, and any data limitations in public agency reports and those to Congress.
  • CBP Chief should develop a plan with time frames to evaluate the Missing Migrant Program.

DHS concurred with the recommendations.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.