WASHINGTON – Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the agency is committed to transparency after the agency was criticized during an influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border earlier this year.
“Too often,I think our response had been ‘no comment’ or ‘this is under investigation,’” he said. “We need to be able to give people the basic facts of something that has occurred.”
Kerlikowske spoke at the Migration Policy Institute Sept. 22. He discussed border control and other issues the agency has faced since he became commissioner in March. While the number of migrants illegally crossing the U.S. Southwest border decreased from 10,622 in June to 3,141 in August,he cautioned against declaring victory too soon.
“We’re not taking a victory lap,” he said. “We’re very pleased that the numbers are down,but we should be very concerned.”
The agency has tried to reinforce the dangers of crossing into the U.S. illegally to migrants coming from Central America,he said. The agency is also testing body cameras,which “can protect officers from unfounded allegations,” he said.
He talked about watching Border Patrol agents bring clothing and toys from their own homes to give to children in custody,calling their knowledge and professionalism supreme.
“The care and the tenderness they showed was remarkable,” he said.
Royce Murray,director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center,asked Kerlikowske about lessons learned during the recent migration crisis.
“I am sure there were many officers going above and beyond,” Murray said. “However,there were also allegations brought by my organization and others here.”
In June,the National Immigrant Justice Center and three other organizations filed an abuse complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 116 immigrant children.
Kerlikowske called it a lesson learned and thanked Murray for bringing the complaints to the agency’s attention.
Murray said the agency seems to still be investigating the complaints,but said she hopes that it’s not just “lip service.”
“He is candid,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that the information he’s giving us is sufficient,or that it’s totally consistent with other remarks.”
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