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Hoover: Magnus needs to work with experts & activists to make U.S. border policies more humane

President Joe Biden’s new commissioner of Customs and Border Protection promised the U.S. Senate to enforce border policies and to make them humane. Commissioner Chris Magnus, Tucson's former chief of police, should seek out civil society experts for help to make those policies humane. Humanitarian groups, academics, human rights groups, telecommunication companies, and local governments have much to offer.

Humanitarian groups save thousands of lives by putting water in the deserts of four border states. They aid in search and rescue operations and provide life-saving information to migrants. Migrant shelters in Mexico receive aid for deported, sick, and injured migrants, the refuse of Border Patrol operations. Yet, CBP spends energy surveilling these groups, refusing to work with them, lying about them, and dissing them in the media. CBP leadership would benefit by creating liaisons to major groups in each CBP sector.

Academics want to evaluate border policies and initiatives. Are they efficient? Effective? Equitable? No one knows. Congress avoids oversight. CBP routinely requires academics to submit Freedom of Information data requests. They are often denied or severely redacted. For CBP to be transparent and humane, data mines need to be opened for rigorous evaluation.

Human rights workers deserve to be at the table. They are rightfully and openly critical of CBP. Still, they have much to offer to make enforcement more humane. They systematically document known abuses. CBP covers up even more abuses. The Office of Inspector General has too few inspectors to police agents. CBP agents have the highest per capita rap sheet in U.S. law enforcement. Human rights training in the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M., is a joke. Increased training of agents is essential to change both the tone and the outcomes of border enforcement.

Most of the desert Southwest has no cellphone service. This is devastating for migrants, agents, and other federal, state, and tribal employees who work in those areas. Telecommunications and county search and rescue organizations could help. In 2010, CBP refused to allow 911 calls to be handled on towers used by CBP for surveillance and communication. 2020 was the deadliest year for migrants on record. If CBP should treat migrant deaths as a solvable emergency. Death is not and should not be used as a deterrent.

Local governments want more interoperability to make the border humane. Search and rescue, identification of missing and deceased migrants, use of medical facility resources, and coordinating services for asylum seekers are all areas needing attention.

In the 1980s, I created the Fort Worth Clergy-Advisory Council in Texas. The police had problems in many communities — with officer-involved shootings and more. Religious leaders worked with uniformed officers to diffuse tension and build trust. A police commander spoke to me as we drove by the police academy. “The only difference between those recruits and the people they will arrest next week after graduation is that they chose to be on the right side,” he said.

The questions now are not just about the agents of enforcement. For the leaders to be on the right side, they need not just build trust among agents, they need to build trust in the American people that they are reflecting American values. It’s time for a professional CBP guided by the best information and cooperation possible.

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Rev. Robin Hoover, author of “Creating Humane Borders,” has worked with migrants on the Southwest border for three decades.


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Magnus at a TPD press conference in 2016.

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