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Blog Post: The Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act

Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force   Blog

The Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act

On December 31, 2020, the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act (MPURA), S.2174, was signed into law. This legislation is one of the only bipartisan efforts on immigration to become law in a long time. It was introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and co-sponsored by then-Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). Senator Cornyn described his motivation for introducing the legislation in the following statements:

“Nobody should ever have to wonder about the fate of their missing child, friend, or loved one. This bipartisan legislation addresses one of the most prevalent and tragic crises we face along our border.”

“Our border communities have experienced the very real consequences of the treacherous journey travelled by many seeking to come to this country.”

“This bill will bring dignity to those who have died, closure for their families, and additional resources to local governments caring for their communities.”

The MPURA benefits law enforcement agencies along the Southwest border in their efforts to identify and rescue missing migrants. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there have been 7,805 migrant deaths along the Southwest border since 1998, although an exact number is unknown. Most of these tragic deaths have been attributed to dehydration, drowning, or extreme temperatures, and remains can be difficult to identify after prolonged exposure to the desert climate. The process of identifying the remains through DNA sampling and determining the cause of death is also expensive. Rural agencies in charge of identifying the remains are often overwhelmed and underfunded, which can lead to serious mishandling and wrongdoing. This was the case in the 2013 discovery of unidentified migrant graves in Brooks County, TX. The MPURA will allocate grant funding to local and state municipalities and humanitarian groups along the border, allowing these organizations to effectively report, process, and identify missing persons and unidentified remains.

The MPURA also authorizes the creation of 170 “rescue beacons” to be distributed along the border. These solar-powered, satellite-connected phone towers allow distressed migrants to call 911 for emergency rescue. Each tower has instructions on how to call in multiple languages. The number of beacons along the border will increase by 600%, greatly improving a migrant’s chance of survival in the harsh border terrain. For example, a migrant family of three crossing the border on December 24, 2019 became distressed and used a rescue beacon near Lukeville, AZ to call for help. The family was then safely transported out of dangerous terrain. In the last 3 months of 2019, U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector rescued over 240 migrants via the beacons.

Required annual reports from the Attorney General, Customs and Border Protection, and the Government Accountability Office will provide updates on how the MPURA grant funding and rescue beacons are being used.

The passage of the MPURA is a prime example of the commonsense, bipartisan immigration reform that we hope continues in 2021.


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