NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 24, 2005

A new state-of-the-art database created by the Mexican government and a San Diego company can help Mexicans searching for relatives who may have died while crossing the U.S. border, says the Wall Street Journal.

The database, which has been operating in its test form since May, compares a description of the missing family member with forensic data and information gathered in connection with the estimated 2.5 million ID cards that have been issued to Mexican nationals in the United States, says the Journal.

How does it work?

  • The program draws together photographs, fingerprints, signatures and encoded DNA sequences, offering a vast resource for the estimated 5,500 requests made by Mexican families each year searching for lost relatives.
  • Government investigators then work with Mexican consulates in the United States and try to match the information with records in the database.
  • When a likely match occurs, Mexican officials request a blood sample or a cheek swab from a living family member to use in a DNA match with a body; a sample test can cost $500-$1,500 and the government pays the bill.
  • The program is the most systematic effort yet by the Mexican government to identify border-crossers who die on the way to the United States.

Even though it is not yet accessible by the U.S. government, it may prove useful for reuniting family members who have been separated and could have applications in refugee crises, natural disasters or other episodes of mass migration.

For now, Mexican officials are only investigated cases that are less than two years old; this year alone, U.S. Border Patrol has reported more than 120 unidentified bodies and skeletal remains along the U.S.-Mexico border, says the Journal.

Source: Kim-Mai Cutler, "Database Aids In Identifying Unknown Dead From Mexico," Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2005.

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