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Border Death Prevention and Corpse Recovery Fund Talking Points

In Brief:

South Texas is the nations leading site for migrant deaths. Death rates are
persistently high in this area.
South Texas lacks resources to recover, identify, and process bodies of dead migrants,
much less perform adequate search and rescue operations.
By investing 1/20th of one percent of the next bienniums budget in this grant program,
Texas can help dramatically reduce migrant deaths, and ensure that the dead are
treated with dignity and care.
If we as a society value the lives of our fellow persons, we must pass this amendment.

Need:

South Texas has become the leading site for migrant deaths in the United States,
overtaking Southern Arizona. According to Border Patrol figures 271 migrants died in
South Texas in FY 2012, a number that is almost certainly an under-estimate as it
excludes deaths happening in interior counties. Death rates have remained persistently
high since then. This year, Brooks County is already on pace for its second highest
migrant death toll ever with 13 bodies recovered in just the first 6 weeks of 2015. Life is
precious and it is a good and moral use of state resources to help save migrant lives in
South Texas.

Migrant death rates are compounded by slow 911 call response times, in those cases
where 911 calls even get a response. Between July 2013 and June 2014, US Border
Patrol responded to fewer than half of the six hundred 911 calls forwarded to them by
the Brooks County Sheriffs Office. This need, combined with the lack of Federal
response overwhelms the Brooks County SO, which only has 5 uniformed personnel to
respond to calls. This leads to dangerously long emergency response times. From an
analysis by reporter John Carlos Frey, we know the average response time to a 911 call
made by a migrant in Brooks County was 2 hours and 18 minutes. In one in seven cases,
the delay was longer than five hours. These long delays in emergency response, if a
response ever comes at all, can literally be the difference between life and death for
migrants in South Texas.

Limited DHS definitions of the border reduces available resources compounding the
crisis. Many of these deaths are occurring in Brooks County, and other areas near
interior Border Patrol Checkpoints. However, in the case of Brooks County, "the
Department of Homeland Security has not designated it a border county because it is
not contiguous to Mexico. This leaves it less eligible for federal funding to deal with the
problem." This lack of federal funding stresses available government and nongovernmental resources alike. State funding can fill this gap and provide a needed
lifeline for migrants crossing in South Texas.

Limited resources also mean long processing times for dealing with bodies of deceased
migrants. There is now a backlog of several hundred unidentified corpses of deceased
migrants in South Texas. Additional resources are required to bring migrant corpse
recovery into full compliance with existing state law. The dead deserve to be treated
humanely and with dignity. State funding can provide for this.

Purpose:

State funding through this amendment would go to support search and rescue
operations that can increase emergency response rates, bring down emergency
response times, and help keep dozens if not hundreds of people alive over this next
biennium. Most of this funding would go to local governments such as Sherriff's Offices
and county governments, as well as subcontracts to their partners in civil society.

State funding through this amendment would also go to support search and recovery
efforts, so that bodies of deceased migrants might be recovered, identified, and
returned to their families. This funding would be split between local governments,
universities, medical examiners, and civil society groups, all of whom play critical roles in
facilitating a humane process for the dead.

Our Request of State Government:

This amendment asks for $10 million to help save lives and recover bodies of migrants
crossing the Texas-Mexico border. This is one twentieth of one percent of the House's
biennial budget.

We are looking to take this money from funds that have been allocated to the Office of
the Governor, but not given a specific purpose therein. We respect the original
allocation, however, we feel these dollars can be taken from this source without
harming the general welfare of the State, and will help tilt life-or-death situations
migrants crossing through South Texas face in the direction of life.

Solution:

Pass this Amendment to HB 1 and help Texans to save lives and treat the dead with
the dignity and respect they deserve.