Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash
John Sanders, acting commissioner of the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for little more than two months, announced June 25 that he will step down from the position beginning July 5.
While ThinkProgress reports that he never said that his resignation follows complaints about the conditions migrant children have faced in concentration camps along the Southern border, his announcement via internal email aligns with journalists’ revelations that his agency had moved nearly 100 migrant children back to a CBP center in Clint, Texas, that was found to leave children without access to sanitation, proper food, and even beds or blankets.
“I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful,” Sanders said in his email to CBP employees. “I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of CPB has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career.”
President Donald Trump appointed Sanders to this position in April 2019 after former commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, replaced Kirstjen Nielsen as Homeland Security Secretary following her departure that same month. Nielsen, who assumed the commissioner role in December 2017, oversaw the initial wave of family separation at the border that drew worldwide criticism.
"The system is in freefall. DHS is doing everything possible to respond to a growing humanitarian catastrophe while also securing our borders, but we have reached peak capacity and are now forced to pull from other missions to respond to the emergency," Nielsen said in a statement, responding to Democrats’ criticism.
Her statement also came after President Trump threatened to close the border if the Mexican government did not slow the rate of immigration into the US. Nielsen had requested emergency funding to detain more of the migrants, most of whom entered the country to seek asylum.
One of those Democrats was Joaquin Castro, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a Texas state representatives.
"The Department of Homeland Security policies have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border, and now Secretary Nielsen has put forth a list of proposals that will continue to hurt asylum seekers and deepen the crisis," Rep. Castro said in a statement reported by The Hill.
Sanders replaced Nielsen, but he only held the position for about one-eighth of the time she did.
It doesn’t appear that Sanders gave a reason for his exit, but even Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) publicly recognizes that border patrol stations are dangerous and ill-advised. Mark Morgan, ICE director, said the same day Sanders announced his resignation “that border patrol stations are ‘overcrowded,’ with hundreds of children in ‘unsafe conditions’ at various centers,” according to Politico.
“We do want kids out of those facilities. Kids should not be in those facilities,” Morgan told Fox News.
About 2,000 children are detained at border camps on any given day without their families. Kids are not legally supposed to spend more than 72 hours with border agents before being transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, but reports have said they’re spending days to weeks in facilities without enough food, water, or essentials like soaps and toothbrushes. Some reports have even found that young children have been tasked with caring for younger toddlers and even infants in these centers.
It was not immediately clear who will replace Sanders.
Emily Rose Thorne is a junior at Mercer University and an aspiring multimedia journalist. She’s been involved with Step Up Magazine since 2017 and is now helping guide the editorial team as Senior Editor. Previously, she interned as a journalist for both Atlanta Magazine and Girls Rock Athens. She’s also served as Staff Writer, Lead News Writer and News Editor of her campus publication, The Cluster. She is currently the Digital Editor of The Cluster and a 2019 John M. Couric Fellow at the Center for Collaborative Journalism. This summer, she'll start producing audio and writing copy for Georgia Public Broadcasting in Macon.