Beyond the Wall Recommendation: Implement Effective Border Governance Policy that Respects Human Rights

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Over the last three years, the Trump administration has created a cruel human rights crisis on the border and throughout the region. The obsession with building a border wall has overshadowed the need to address critical gaps in our border security.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Implementing effective and humane border policy requires:

1. Recognizing that walls are not a solution

2. Taking the implementation of migration processing out of the hands of security agencies and the military

3. Reforming the internal culture of agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)


A wall is not the solution. Increased port-of-entry staffing and technological capacity is.

A wall will not deter migration. Today, many migrants are voluntarily turning themselves over to CBP officials at ports of entry and between ports of entry where areas are walled off.

Understanding these dynamics, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Congress has refused to appropriate significant portions of the money to fund a wasteful border wall. However, the Trump administration has circumvented legislators by repurposing money appropriated to the Department of Defense for construction of his wall. This move subverts democratic norms and runs afoul of the Constitution.

This obsession with a wall has overshadowed critical gaps in our border security due to outdated technology and insufficient staffing. In order to build effective border policy, the United States needs to move away from fruitless expenditures on a border wall. Instead, we should be focusing on how to properly equip our ports of entry with the infrastructure, staff, and technology needed to detect illicit activity at our ports and in high-trafficked areas between ports of entry.

The processing of migrants should be taken out of the hands of security forces, and key reforms that strengthen the internal culture of CBP and ICE are critical.

As CBP and ICE have detained and deported more and more families and children over the last few years, it has become clear that significant internal issues plague these institutions. Too often, these agencies dehumanize migrants, turn a blind eye to unprofessionalism, and protect agents who commit cruel acts. In turn, CBP and ICE 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.

The objection of CBP and ICE 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.

Furthermore, in order to protect the rights of asylum seekers and migrants who fall under the purview of CBP and ICE 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 these agencies’ 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 and ICE officials would help build accountability for these institutions.

Meanwhile, the situation is far from serious enough to justify deploying the U.S. military, on U.S. soil, for border security. The Trump administration has sent several thousand active-duty personnel and National Guardsmen to the border. It is time to allow them to return home.

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The United States can play a critical role in addressing the significant migration flow patterns and challenges in the region with policies that effectively govern our borders and uphold our basic values.

WOLA’s Beyond the Wall strategy is how we can get there.

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