Pamela Cruz. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has become the epicenter of some of the greatest horrors of the past four years, epitomized in stories that, so far, cannot be forgotten.
Among these stories, says the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are those of children crying breathlessly after being separated from their parents at the border, or of toddlers sleeping in cages on the ground in the open air.
Perhaps the cruelest of them all is the photograph of a little girl clinging desperately with her arm around her father's neck, who ended up drowned on the banks of the Rio Grande while trying to cross into the United States.
The disturbing image has generated comparisons to other photos, such as the death of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian-born boy who drowned in 2015 as his family tried to reach a sanctuary in Greece; or 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, when he was injured in an airstrike in Aleppo.
Just as these images focused the world's attention on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Turkey, the intense image of the little girl and her father drowned in the Rio Grande was a stark reminder of the human cost of the migration crisis.
When President-elect Joe Biden takes office next January, the ACLU says, he must ensure that such abuses never happen again, as well as eradicate the climate of fear-mongering at the border that has excused cruelty and met abuse with impunity.
As the new administration contemplates how to fund the management of the Department of Homeland Security in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will also have to focus on significantly cutting the Customs and Border Protection agency's budget.
And, he points out, the federal agency is one of the largest in the country, with about 45,600 sworn agents and officers, along with a budget of more than $17 billion, both for Border Patrol and for operations at ports of entry.
Despite its size, the Department of Homeland Security claimed in 2019 that 40 percent of CBP's resources were being absorbed by an "unprecedented surge" in the number of families fleeing Central American countries, and it was unable to manage other border security missions.
So, for the ACLU, CBP should have no role in detaining people beyond a brief processing period, since, in the last two years, at least seven children have died in CBP custody or shortly after release, receiving delayed medical care or none at all.
CBP should also be removed from the asylum process, as it has been found to have confiscated crucial personal documents or lied on government forms, and it should also not make decisions about how and when to separate families arriving at the border.
Also, the ACLU adds, reforms are needed to address CBP's culture of impunity for abuse, including the deaths of people at the hands of CBP, as at least 117 people, including some U.S. citizens, have died following encounters with CBP since January 2010.
As Biden's transition team contemplates a new model for receiving asylum seekers, it should also develop alternatives for detaining them.
Similarly, stricter standards are needed to limit CBP's use of deadly force, require CBP officers to keep their credentials visible and wear body cameras. As well as a complaint mechanism that is accessible online, a uniform process for reviewing and investigating abuses, and ensuring that CBP personnel are held accountable for inhumane treatment.
Accountability will require more than the appointment of new leadership, the ACLU concludes, but will require a reckoning and a recalculation of CBP's role.