Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $996,045)
In 2012, Texas surpassed Arizona in migrant deaths, most representing unidentified human remains (UHR). From 1998 to 2020, U.S. Border Patrol reported a total of 3,577 migrant deaths in Texas. Rural jurisdictions, without a medical examiner (ME), in border counties are the most impacted by these deaths and have limited resources. As such, many UHR are not sent for autopsy or anthropological analysis and are instead buried without DNA sampling, without entry into NamUs, NCIC, or ViCAP and have no chance at identification. This proposal falls within Purpose Area 1 (Statewide Agency) with Priority 1A consideration and seeks to meet and implement the goals of the MUHR Program through expanding and expediting the efforts of Operation Identification (OpID) an initiative within the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS).
OpID has been assisting local jurisdictions in South Texas with UHR since 2013 by providing anthropological analysis, submissions of DNA evidence for CODIS inclusion, and entering UHR cases into NamUs. In 2016, OpID began exhuming UHR of presumed migrants who had been buried without autopsy or DNA sampling. OpID also assists counties with case management through established MOUs, interagency collaboration, and communication with law enforcement and Justices of the Peace (JPs), who hold jurisdictional authority over UHR in non-ME counties. OpID has managed over 400 UHR cases primarily from five border counties impacted by migrant deaths, and has helped facilitate, following all state laws and codes, 65 identifications, with 20 identifications this year.
Based on OpID’s success, two objectives are proposed. The first is a comprehensive inventory of UHR across multiple border jurisdictions in Texas with case consolidation at FACTS. This objective will be met through expanding and expediting OpID services, including overall case management, to additional non-ME jurisdictions affected by migrant deaths. The second objective is to increase missing persons case reports entered in NamUs representing missing migrant cases. The South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC) operates a bilingual Missing Migrant Hotline and takes missing persons case reports through an MOU with the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office. However, their cases are not entered in NamUs. A contract with the STHRC will increase missing persons case reports in NamUs, thus aiding to increase identifications and repatriation.
Both proposed objectives ensure UHR are properly accounted for, receive just, thorough investigations, and meet the deliverables of the MUHR Program through reporting, records management, assisting stakeholders, and collecting performance measures.