Missing Migrants Program: an initiative aimed at assisting lost immigrants in coordination with local authorities

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The US Border Patrol unveiled its plans last week for dealing with the problem of immigrants dying in the desert, including 10 new beacons that allow migrants to call for help at the push of a red button. (CBP)

The Missing Migrants Program is an initiative started in 2017 aimed at assisting lost migrants and coordinating with local authorities to identify human remains.

  • US officials have erected “rescue beacons” across the border where migrants could press a button and a signal will alert authorities to their precise location.
  • Border Patrol has increased its coordination with local authorities and groups, such as Aguilas del Desierto, to bolster rescue attempts.

More: Migrant deaths on the rise; Border Patrol increases rescues

MORE MIGRANTS: The sheer number of people arriving at the border also leads to more rescues, Rodriguez said. Last fiscal year, authorities encountered 2.4 million asylum-seekers at the Southwest border – a new U.S. record, according to CBP statistics. Though many of them were repeat crossers, the numbers amassing at the border will translate to more people getting lost or stranded, and more rescues, he said.

Rodriguez said his group has also seen an increase  in phone calls asking for help. His group fields about 30 phone calls a day from stranded migrants or their families, about twice as many calls than there were a few years ago. Workers then pass along the information to Border Patrol officers, he said.

MORE CELLPHONES: Also, migrants these days tend to carry smartphones, which help them call and pinpoint their location coordinates for rescues, Rodriguez said. “They’re able to rescue more people that way,” he said.

Where are most of the rescues taking place?

The majority of the rescues are in the Del Rio Sector in South Texas, where streams of Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians and other nationalities have in recent years took to crossing.

  • The Del Rio Sector saw 906 rescues in fiscal year 2021.
  • That was followed by Laredo (568) and El Paso (526), according to CBP statistics.

What do advocates say about the increased rescues?

Some, like Rodriguez, applaud the Border Patrol for ramping up efforts to save migrants’ lives. Others question whether U.S. border policy forces migrants into dangerous crossings in the first place.

A Border Patrol policy that sealed off urban centers, such as El Paso and San Diego, and forced migrants into more remote terrain – a strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence” – contributes to the spike in deaths and probably is leading to more rescues, said Vicki Gaubeca, Human Rights Watch’s associate director for U.S. immigration and border policy, based in Tucson.

The policy has not actually proved to be a deterrent, she said.

“Sure, you’ll see the rescues increase, but it’s because of our polices,” Gaubeca said. “We’re not preventing this from happening with better policies.”

Jason De León, executive director of the Colibri Center for Human Rights, an immigrants’ rights group, said Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that allows border agents to remove migrants from the U.S. without hearing their claim, also has contributed to repeat crossers and led to more dangerous crossings.

Source: CBP’s Missing Migrants Program

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