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Border Patrol Undercounts Migrant Deaths, GAO Reports

The Government Accountability Office, n a little-noticed report released last month, informed lawmakers that the Border Patrol “has not collected and recorded, or reported to Congress, complete data on migrant deaths.” The omission included data the Border Patrol was required to track and turn over under legislation passed last year. The failings mark the first public government assessment of the agency’s response to the new legal requirements, The Intercept reports. “It confirms something that we suspected for a long time,” said Daniel Martínez, an associate professor at the University of Arizona and one of the world’s leading experts on migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert. “We’ve known this for a while — that the Border Patrol is not doing an effective job of counting the dead.”

The report to Congress focused heavily on the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector; in recent years, major discrepancies have emerged between the agency’s data and that of the medical examiner’s office. Martínez and others at the University of Arizona’s Binational Migration Institute highlighted those discrepancies in a report ast spring. The Border Patrol’s numbers even frequently exceeded those of the medical examiner’s office — not a surprise, since the Tucson Sector covers nearly all of Arizona. From fiscal years 2014 through 2020, the Tucson medical examiner’s office counted 855 suspected migrant remains recovered. The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector counted 488. It was an indication that the Border Patrol had shifted to only tracking cases in which its own agents discovered migrant remains, while the medical examiner’s office counted Border Patrol recoveries in addition to those made by a wider group in the Sonoran Desert, including local law enforcement agencies, humanitarian groups, and private citizens.


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