International Human Rights Body Convenes Hearing to Examine Deficiencies in United States’ System to Identify Missing Migrants

  • Each year, hundreds of migrants from Mexico and Central America disappear after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Although sometimes their remains are identified and returned to their families, thousands of others continue unidentified for decades, often buried as unknown decedents in the U.S., causing extended pain, suffering, and uncertainty for their families.
  • The Forensic Border Coalition calls on the U.S. federal government to compare genetic information of unidentified remains found in the U.S. with available genetic information from relatives of missing migrants on a large-scale and ongoing basis in order to identify them and return them to their families.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will convene a thematic hearing on Friday, October 5, in recognition of the urgent and concerning nature of this issue.
  • The Forensic Border Coalition will advocate for U.S. cooperation with the creation of a transnational mechanism with governmental-nongovernmental collaboration that will allow for large-scale genetic comparisons on an ongoing basis, likely resulting in a highly significant increase in the identification of missing migrants. 

Boulder, Colorado – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will convene a hearing as part of its 169th period of sessions to address the identification of the remains of missing migrants who disappeared along the United States’ southern border. Forensic scientists, human rights experts, and family members of missing migrants will provide testimony and answer questions at the hearing. Representatives of the Unites States government are also expected to be present.

The hearing will take place on Friday, October 5th, 2018, at 10:15 a.m. at the University of Colorado Law School.

Every year, hundreds of migrants from the Central America-Mexico-U.S. migration corridor disappear after crossing the border into the U.S. Since the 1990s, the United States’ “prevention through deterrence” policies, such as new physical barriers, increased surveillance, and additional restrictions at ports of entry, have increasingly funneled border crossers into isolated, and harsh terrain.  The number of deaths increased significantly as many perish, particularly in Arizona and Texas, due to exposure to natural elements, harsh terrain, and/or desert conditions.

The identification of remains in migration corridors is an enormous challenge worldwide because it involves forensic information exchange across national borders for which there are not always sufficient mechanisms in place and information regarding the missing persons and/or the unidentified remains. In the Central America-Mexico-U.S. migration corridor there is no regional system for the exchange of forensic information. Morgues, consulates, medical examiners, civil society and religious organizations, universities and other entities near the southern border of the U.S. make important efforts to identify remains that correspond to missing migrants and repatriate them to their countries of origin and their families. However, despite these important efforts, thousands of remains found near the southern border of the U.S. still remain unidentified. The United States has the resources, technology, and potential access to genetic information that is necessary to provide many of the families searching for their missing migrant loved ones with answers. Unfortunately, entering large numbers of genetic profiles from relatives of missing migrants to be compared against genetic profiles of unidentified remains discovered in the U.S. has not been possible on a large-scale basis in federal U.S. DNA databases thus far, and this issue is the focus of the above-referenced hearing. 

The Forensic Border Coalition (FBC) is a group of forensic scientists, scholars, human rights organizations, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations that works with state institutions in the Central America-Mexico-U.S. migration corridor to investigate missing persons reports and uses forensic science to facilitate the identification of the human remains of migrants in order to provide some closure for their loved ones. The FBC requested this hearing to call for increased U.S. federal government cooperation with this effort through formalizing a transnational mechanism for large-scale data crossing of genetic information from unidentified remains and genetic information from relatives of missing migrants. The creation of this type of mechanism, focused solely on humanitarian objectives, would provide answers to thousands of relatives of disappeared migrants in the region, as well as more effectively comply with both U.S. domestic and international law.

Currently, the cross-border comparison of genetic information from family members looking for a missing loved one with genetic information from unidentified remains found in the U.S. is done primarily on a case-by-case basis—that is, a DNA sample may be taken from a body found in the U.S. southern border and its genetic information would be compared against genetic information of a specific family based on circumstantial information or other attributes.  Additionally, the genetic information of those remains may be entered into the U.S. national data bank but thousands of genetic profiles of relatives of missing migrants collected in Mexico and Central America are not present in that system, thus precluding the possibility to reach identifications.  Up to the present, the U.S. federal government has made insufficient efforts to resolve missing migrant identifications through large-scale comparison processes—a large-scale comparison including all available DNA information from relatives of missing migrants and all DNA data from unidentified remains found on U.S. soil has not been conducted. Therefore, the FBC calls on the U.S. federal government to address this gap in the current system and will be arguing for the creation of a transnational process to allow such large-scale comparisons, which should yield a significant number of identifications, likely allowing hundreds of families to finally know the fate of their missing loved ones who disappeared at the border.

Information on the hearing:

Hearing Name: Identification of the Remains of Migrants Disappeared Along the United States Border 

When: October 5th, 2018, 10:15 – 11:15 a.m.

Where: “Schaden Commons” room, Wolf Law Building, 401 UCB, 2450 Kittredge Loop Road, Boulder, CO


It is not necessary for press to pre-register for the event. For more Information, see here.

If you are unable to attend the hearing, the IACHR will be broadcasting live on its website.

Immediately following the hearing, FBC will be hosting a vigil for missing migrants on the University of Colorado campus. Speakers will include families of missing migrants, members of the FBC, and more.

About the Forensic Border Coalition

The Forensic Border Coalition (FBC) was established in the Spring of 2013. The coalition is comprised of forensic scientists, scholars, and human rights partner organizations working to comprehensively address the significant barriers to identifying the remains of missing migrants found on the U.S.- Mexico Border. The mission of the FBC is to support the families of missing migrants searching for their loved ones and to work to improve problems related to investigating and identifying the remains of those who die while traveling through the dangerous terrain of the southern U.S. border region.

The hearing is being supported by over 45 human rights groups, family representation committees, forensic scientists, and other entities from the U.S., Mexico, and Central America, that signed the petition to the IACHR. The signatories include: Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF), Colibrí Center for Human Rights, South Texas Human Rights Center, the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (FACTS), the Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) – UC Berkeley School of Law, Christine Kovic, PhD, Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho (FJEDD), Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (PDH, Ombudsman’s Office) de Guatemala, Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH, Ombudsman’s Office) – El Salvador,  Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Fallecidos y Desaparecidos de El Salvador (COFAMIDE), Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos del Progreso (COFAMIPRO), Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos del Centro de Honduras (COFAMICENH), Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador (GMIES), Alianza de Salvadoreños Retornados (ALSARE), Foro Nacional para las Migraciones en Honduras (FONAMIH), Centro de Acompañamiento a Migrantes (CAMINOS A. C.) – Oaxaca, National Network Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Alianza Americas – Estados Unidos de América, Casa Proyecto Libertad -Harlingen, Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) of El Paso, Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) of El Paso, Movimiento de Valle de Derechos Humanos – Texas, and Alianza Pro-Inmigrante de Corpus Christi.

Border Forensic Coalition