Congressmen introduce bipartisan missing persons bill

(Joel Martinez | With the backdrop of the new courthouse building under construction, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, holds a press conference to address voter suppression at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Tuesday in Edinburg.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, announced Monday legislation that would help local officials’ ability to record and report missing persons and unidentified remains found in areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a news release.

The proposed resolution, named HR 8772 or the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act of 2020, was introduced by Congressmen Gonzalez and Will Hurd as a companion bill to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s and Vice President-Elect and California Sen. Kamala Harris’s legislation passed in the senate last week.

“With the devastating landfall of Hurricanes Iota and Eta and the destruction of crops and livelihoods, we can expect more migration from Central American countries to the United States in the future,” Gonzalez said in the release. “While we continue to work with neighbors to address the root causes of migration, our local governments in South Texas and across the U.S.-Mexico border continue to need help recovering and identifying the remains of missing migrants.

“It’s my hope that these resources will offer relief to local law enforcement and provide closure for the families of those tragically lost.”

The bill would expand grant eligibility to allow applicants from state and local governments, select accredited forensic labs, medical examiners, nonprofit organizations and other uses of the National Crime Information Center, the release states.

In addition to expanding eligibility, the proposed legislation would require reporting to the NCIC, for missing persons and people found dead in the applicant’s jurisdiction, and add privacy protections for biological family reference samples that could be entered into a DNA index system.

The bill would also provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection resources that would help them locate and rescue people who get lost on their trek along the border.

The congressman’s bill also authorizes the use of grant funds to cover costs incurred in prior years; specifically fiscal year 2017 costs, including transportation, processing, identification and reporting of missing persons and unidentified remains; and for the hiring of additional case analysts and technicians, among others, the release states.

Congressman Hurd, the only House Republican to represent a large segment of the border area and who has been public about his opposition to more structural barriers along the U.S.-Mexico, said the bill would also help prevent deaths along the border.

“This bipartisan bill helps prevent tragic deaths along the border by expanding CBP’s rescue and apprehension capabilities, while also mitigating the burden placed on localities to identify perished individuals with the dignity they deserve. I am proud to join my fellow Texans Rep. Gonzalez and Sen. Cornyn again in working to provide a solution for this very real challenge faced by law enforcement agencies across my district,” Hurd said in the release.

The 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, among others, the release states.