Bor­der of­fi­cial re­signs amid up­roar

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nomaan Mer­chant

HOUS­TON >> The act­ing head of U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion re­signed Tues­day amid an up­roar over the dis­cov­ery of mi­grant chil­dren be­ing held in filthy con­di­tions at one of the agency’s sta­tions in Texas.

Com­mis­sioner John San­ders’ de­par­ture deep­ened the sense of cri­sis and added to the rapid turnover in­side the agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for en­forc­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s hard­line im­mi­gra­tion pri­or­i­ties.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is deal­ing with un­prece­dented num­bers of mi­grant fam­i­lies com­ing across the bor­der, a surge that has left de­ten­tion cen­ters se­verely over­crowded and taxed the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to pro­vide med­i­cal care and other at­ten­tion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has faced a bar­rage of crit­i­cism in re­cent days over con­di­tions in­side the Bor­der Pa­trol fa­cil­ity in Clint, Texas, first re­ported by The As­so­ci­ated Press: in­ad­e­quate food, lack of med­i­cal care, and older chil­dren try­ing to care for tod­dlers.

In a mes­sage to em­ploy­ees, San­ders said he would step down on July 5. He did not give a rea­son for leav­ing.

“Although I will leave it to you to de­ter­mine whether I was suc­cess­ful, I can unequiv­o­cally say that help­ing sup­port the amaz­ing men and women of CBP has been the most ful­fill­ing and sat­is­fy­ing op­por­tu­nity of my ca­reer,” he said.

In an in­ter­view with AP last week, San­ders blamed the prob­lems in de­ten­tion on a lack of fund­ing. He called on Congress to pass a $4.5 bil­lion emer­gency fund­ing bill to ad­dress the cri

sis — leg­is­la­tion the House was plan­ning to take up Tues­day.

“The death of a child is al­ways a ter­ri­ble thing, but here is a sit­u­a­tion where, be­cause there is not enough fund­ing ... they can’t move the peo­ple out of our cus­tody,” San­ders said.

Pre­vi­ously CBP’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, San­ders was named act­ing com­mis­sioner in April af­ter the agency’s pre­vi­ous leader, Kevin McAleenan, be­came act­ing sec­re­tary of the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

Other key DHS agen­cies also have in­terim or act­ing di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices.

ICE on Satur­day de­layed a long-planned op­er­a­tion to sweep U.S. cities and ar­rest hun­dreds of peo­ple ac­cused of flout­ing or­ders to leave the coun­try, days af­ter Trump’s tweets about the op­er­a­tion alarmed im­mi­grant fam­i­lies and ad­vo­cates. For­mer ICE act­ing di­rec­tor Thomas Ho­man, a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ally, then went on tele­vi­sion to ac­cuse McAleenan of leak­ing in­for­ma­tion about the op­er­a­tion be­cause he op­posed it.

CBP is the agency that ap­pre­hends and first de­tains mi­grant par­ents and chil­dren cross­ing the Mex­i­can bor­der.

In one case re­ported in Clint, at­tor­neys said a 2-year-old boy with­out a di­a­per was be­ing watched by older chil­dren. Sev­eral young­sters had the flu. Many were sep­a­rated from ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers like aunts and un­cles who brought them to the bor­der; oth­ers were teenage moth­ers with ba­bies.

Many chil­dren were moved out of the fa­cil­ity in re­cent days. But around the same time that San­ders an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion, his agency said of­fi­cials had moved more than 100 chil­dren back to the sta­tion.

An of­fi­cial from Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said Tues­day that the ma­jor­ity of the roughly 300 chil­dren de­tained at Clint last week had been moved to fa­cil­i­ties op­er­ated by the Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment. The of­fi­cial, who briefed re­porters on the con­di­tion of anonymity, wouldn’t say ex­actly how many.

Clara Long, a se­nior re­searcher with Hu­man Rights Watch, and other lawyers in­spected the fa­cil­i­ties be­cause they are in­volved in the Flores set­tle­ment, a Clin­ton-era le­gal agree­ment that governs de­ten­tion con­di­tions for mi­grant chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

The lawyers spoke to chil­dren who con­tra­dicted CBP’s claims that the agency pro­vides reg­u­lar meals, safe places to sleep and ac­cess to med­i­cal care.

CBP’s fa­cil­i­ties at the Mex­i­can bor­der were al­most all built when most peo­ple cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally were sin­gle adults. Now, the agency is ap­pre­hend­ing tens of thou­sands of par­ents and chil­dren weekly. It recorded 84,500 ap­pre­hen­sions of adults and chil­dren trav­el­ing to­gether in May.

Six chil­dren have died since last year af­ter be­ing de­tained by bor­der agents. At least two are be­lieved to have died of com­pli­ca­tions of the flu, in­clud­ing a 16-year-old who was left to sleep on a con­crete bench in­side a Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tion.


This frame from video shows the en­trance of a Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tion in Clint, Texas.

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