A top immigration official in the Trump administration announced his resignation Tuesday amid public outcry over the treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody, prompting accusations that he and others are attempting to avoid responsibility for what critics call "government-sanctioned child abuse."
Shortly after as it was reported that more than 100 children were transferred back to a detention facility in Texas where rampant abuse was found, news broke that Acting Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) John Sanders is stepping down on July 5.
Sanders did not make a public statement about his resignation or the hundreds of children in U.S. custody who have been living in unsanitary, unsafe conditions for weeks at government-run facilities around the country, instead sending a letter to his colleagues in which he praised the agency's "determination and can-do attitude" and its ability to "accomplish what others thought wasn't possible" under the Trump administration.
Critics, however, were unequivocal in their view that Sanders and the rest of the administration should be held accountable for the treatment of the thousands of children in the detention centers.
"They will spin the horrendous treatment of children as a 'mismanagement' problem," tweeted the legal aid organization Raices. "That's a complete dodge. This is an intentionally racist and violent regime who've targeted immigrants since they took office. They need to be held accountable."
The @CBP chief is resigning. They will spin the horrendous treatment of children as a 'mismanagement' problem.
That's a complete dodge.
This is an intentionally racist and violent regime who've targeted immigrants since they took office.
They need to be held accountable. https://t.co/zhNuG4EDIv
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) June 25, 2019
BREAKING: Customs and Border Protection head John Sanders resigned after news that thousands of children in his care are being held without soap, diapers, clean clothes, beds or enough food.
— Swing Left (@swingleft) June 25, 2019
This White House is in chaos – after the rampant abuse of 250 children at Clint, acting @CBP commissioner John Sanders is resigning.
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Looks like Trump’s own officials would rather leave their jobs than stand by his failed immigration agenda & government-sanctioned child abuse. https://t.co/FnPVFqp1JG
— Hispanic Caucus (@HispanicCaucus) June 25, 2019
Last week, a legal team comprised of health and rights experts reported that upon arriving at a detention facility in Clint, Texas for a court-ordered visit, they had found young adolescents attempting to act as caretakers for younger children. The children were living in "the worst conditions" they'd seen in migrant facilities, without access to soap or adequate food.
"The cells are overcrowded... there's a lice infestation there, there is an influenza outbreak," Professor Warren Binford of Williamette University in Oregon, part of the team that visited the facility last week, told the BBC. "Children are being locked up in isolation with no adult supervision, who are very, very ill and they're just lying on the ground on mats."
The report outraged the public, along with a video of Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian arguing in front of a federal appeals court that children in detention centers did not need to be given soap and toothbrushes in order for the facilities to qualify as "safe and sanitary."
A Trump official tried to argue that detained children don’t need soap, toothbrushes, or beds to be ‘safe and sanitary’ while in Border Patrol custody pic.twitter.com/sRFPZsDbwy
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) June 21, 2019
One unnamed CBP official told the New York Times, "I personally don't believe [the] allegations" made by the children, but on Monday, more than 200 children were transferred out of the facility in Clint to a network of detention facilities elsewhere in the country, including a camp in El Paso.
About 100 of those children were then returned to the center in Clint on Tuesday, with CBP claiming overcrowding in the shelter had been alleviated. According to the Times, the agency did not allocate more resources for the shelter as the children were taken back there.
A replacement for Sanders was not announced on Tuesday, but Democratic congressional candidate Brianna Wu tweeted that a CBP commissioner who would prioritize the human rights of immigrants was unlikely to be appointed in the near future.
"We all know that Trump isn't going to appoint a qualified replacement for John Sanders because CBP's cruelty and abuse of migrant families is entirely intentional," wrote Wu. "Congress has to hold this racist administration accountable or these atrocities will continue."