Border Patrol failed to count hundreds of migrant deaths on US soil

Part one of two. Coming tomorrow: How America’s patchwork system for identifying migrants’ remains leaves families in limbo.

(CNN) From his small mountain town in the Ecuadorian Andes, Darwin Cabrera made the long, dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico and finally across the Rio Grande, into the United States.

But on June 3, 2014, just after he crossed illegally into El Paso, Texas, Border Patrol agents spotted him with other crossers on Sixth Street. As they gave chase, the 18-year-old dove into one of the canals flanking the US side of the river. He didn’t surface.Two days later, Border Patrol agents in a helicopter spotted his body, floating face down. El Paso police officers fished it out of the canal. The local medical examiner recorded the details of the death.But even though Border Patrol agents saw him go in and saw his body come out, his death did not count in their eyes. The agency’s official tally of border-crossing deaths in their El Paso sector that year: Zero. After CNN contacted sector officials with a copy of the El Paso medical examiner’s report, they acknowledged the error and said they would add the death to their records.For 20 years, as part of its mission, the Border Patrol has been tasked with tracking and trying to prevent border-crossing deaths. But an investigation by CNN has found that the agency has been, at best, haphazard about tracking and recording deaths. Despite telling Congress and the General Accounting Office it would provide comprehensive accounting of migrant deaths, it has failed to do so. It has excluded fatalities reported by other law-enforcement agencies, while claiming to include them, and neglected even to count some deaths directly witnessed by Border Patrol agents.Over the 16 fiscal years ended last September, CNN has identified at least 564 deaths of people crossing illegally in the border region, above and beyond the Border Patrol’s tally of 5,984.Those uncounted deaths were identified through a review of federal, state and local records and databases, and interviews with medical examiners, pathologists, sheriffs and justices of the peace along the border. It is by no means a complete count, and there are strong indications that the actual toll could be thousands higher.More than half of the uncounted deaths identified by CNN happened in the past four years. Those figures mirror a recent investigation by the Arizona Republic, one of a set of pieces on border conditions that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. That story documented a significant undercounting of migrant deaths from 2012 to 2016.The effective erasure within federal statistics of Cabrera’s death and so many others has helped minimize the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis associated with illegal crossings. Downplaying the death toll also makes it harder for the United States to assess the full impact of a border policy, in place since the mid-1990s, that uses barriers and other enforcement tools to push migrants to more remote, deadlier crossing points.That policy was designed to deter crossers, but, as officials realized nearly from the start, its primary impact has been to make the journey far more deadly. Today, experts who study the border fear that deportation and border enforcement strategies being pursued by the Trump admininstration may drive deaths even higher — making it all the more important to accurately track fatalities.Read the entire article here:

Bob Ortega