Senator Cornyn

Cornyn, Harris Bill to Help Border Counties Identify Missing Migrants Passes Senate

November 17, 2020

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) released the following statement after the Senate passed the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act, a bipartisan bill he authored with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to help local jurisdictions improve the recording and reporting of missing persons and unidentified remains found along the U.S.-Mexico border:

“I’ve heard from too many South Texas communities that have had to stretch already limited resources thin to identify and process the many remains of those found as a result of the federal government’s failure to secure our borders,” said Sen. Cornyn.  “A visit to pay tribute to some of these remains at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Brooks County is so moving, I’ve brought my colleagues down from Washington to see it for themselves. 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 Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act:

  • Expands eligibility to apply for certain grants to state and local governments, accredited government-funded CODIS forensic laboratories, and medical examiners for entry of data into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) or the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS)
  • Authorizes use of grant funds to cover costs:
    • For transportation, processing, identification, and reporting of missing persons and unidentified remains
    • Of hiring additional DNA case analysts and technicians, fingerprint examiners, and forensic odontologists and anthropologists needed to support identification efforts
    • Of purchasing state-of-the-art forensic and DNA-typing and analytical equipment
  • Adds privacy protections for biological family reference samples uploaded into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) by precluding disclosure of such information to Federal or state law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes
  • Expands CBP’s legal authority to purchase and deployment of up to 170 self-powering 9-1-1 cellular relay rescue beacons to mitigate migrant deaths on the southern border
  • Requires reporting to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the National and Missing Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) regarding missing persons and deceased individuals found in each applicant’s jurisdiction
  • Adds reporting requirements for the NamUS Program regarding the number of unidentified person cases, anthropology cases, suspected border crossing cases, and associations made
  • Adds reporting requirements for CBP and GAO on unidentified remains and the use of rescue beacons

This bill is endorsed by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Southern Border Communities Coalition, the South Texans’ Property Rights Association, the Texas Border Coalition, the National Criminal Justice Association, the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (including the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, the International Association for Identification, the National Association of Medical Examiners, the Society of Forensic Toxicologists and American Board of Forensic Toxicology), the National Immigration Forum, and the Colibri Center for Human Rights.