The U.S. government has yet to fully re-adapt its border security apparatus at the U.S.-Mexico border, to account for a new reality of unaccompanied child and child-and-family migration.
There is a rights-respecting way forward, to ensure orderly, safe migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Implementing effective and humane border policy requires:
1. Reforming the internal culture of agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including the Border Patrol.
2. Take the implementation of migration processing out of the hands of security agencies and the military, institutions that are not suited to be processing children and families.
The last few years have made clear that significant internal issues plague CBP and Border Patrol. Too often, these agencies dehumanize migrants, turn a blind eye to unprofessionalism, and protect agents who commit cruel acts. In turn, CBP officials, many of them trying to do their jobs professionally and overstretched, have publicly objected to being tasked with challenges they’re ill-equipped to handle, a situation that has resulted in plummeting morale.
Under the Trump administration, a torrent of abusive presidential rhetoric and political appointees’ policies upheld, encouraged, and protected CBP’s and Border Patrol’s most abusive, cruel, and openly racist elements. The damage to these agencies’ organizational culture—which had hardly rewarded compassion or transparency in the first place—was severe.
Border agencies need to adjust to the new reality of unaccompanied child and family-and-child migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. But in a vacuum of leadership, border agencies have not adjusted to the new reality: they remain trained and deployed to confront adult migrants whom they presume to be dangerous, while preserving a defiantly low-accountability, high-impunity culture.
In order to protect the rights of asylum seekers and migrants who fall under the purview of CBP because of their apprehension and detention, it’s critically important that the United States pursue reforms designed to improve transparency and accountability. It’s similarly important that we understand the origins of the agency’s tendency to dehumanize migrants. Internal controls designed to detect corruption, abusive practices, and inappropriate use of force are also important steps in building more transparency. Following the lead of domestic law enforcement agencies, implementing more professional due process measures for CBP officials would help build accountability for these institutions.
The objection of CBP officials to roles they’re ill-equipped to take, such as caring for migrants in detention or moving through the process of asylum, underlines a significant issue in migration policy: agencies principally tasked with security and enforcement should not be involved in providing humanitarian assistance and the asylum process. This principle extends to the military, which up until recently was deployed at the border. It’s imperative that providing basic services for migrants and asylum seekers under government care should be the mandate of an agency better suited for human services and healthcare.