The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has asked the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the green light to erase its paper trail and destroy internal documents, including records concerning alleged misconduct, as soon as four years from now.
The purpose of the ask to the National Archives is clear, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said. CBP, among the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the nation, would be able to sabotage investigations into its abuses by simply pressing delete. “That’s why this week, the ACLU of Texas Border Rights Center, along with more than 100 partner organizations, filed a public comment urging NARA to reject CBP’s proposal.”
“CBP misconduct often only becomes public via leaks, investigative reporting, or lawsuits,” the ACLU cautioned, “meaning the loss of internal records could forever bury unknown abuses. For example, the first death of a child in CBP custody in over 10 years was revealed by journalists, after CBP failed to report the death to Congress, as required.” A medical expert later told Congress that Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin, the 7-year-old indigenous girl from Guatemala who died while in CBP custody in December 2018, could have been saved.
Following her death, Congress gave the agency emergency humanitarian funds for food and medical supplies in an attempt to prevent further tragedies. But in a blockbuster report this year, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the agency violated law by spending some of those funds on dirt bikes, computer network upgrades, and a canine program. In response to the report, CBP said it would “correct our accounts as recommend by the GAO,” but clearly only because it had been found out.
“Independent lawyers uncovered children held in deplorable conditions at a Border Patrol station in Clint, TX,” the ACLU continued. “Border Patrol’s racist and xenophobic Facebook page was uncovered by a reporter, and the prevalence of sexual harrassment and rape within the agency has been revealed only when survivors and former officials spoke up. Lawsuits have similarly uncovered severe agent misconduct, including kidnapping, sexual assault, and an agent intentionally running over a migrant.” The U.S. has in fact shelled out tens of millions of dollars to settle case allegations of wrongful detention, assault, and death at the hands of border agents.
Those are the kinds of abuses the agency is seeking to forever hide—and it hasn’t been alone. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), another out-of-control federal immigration agency, also asked for—and got—authorization from the National Archives to begin deleting records. While the ACLU and other organizations filed an emergency request seeking to preserve those records, the status of that request is unclear.
Internal records for this truly bloated agency (“CBP employs more than 44,000 Border Patrol agents and CBP officers, and maintains a budget of nearly $17 billion,” the ACLU said) must be preserved as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also taken truly unprecedented actions in the name of white supremacy. Under a Stephen Miller-led order exploiting the novel coronavirus pandemic, the administration has violated U.S. and international law by blocking thousands of asylum-seekers, including children.
A possible end to the Trump administration within the next couple months could mean we begin to get some accountability, if we push for it, and we push a new president for it. CBP knows that too. “With systemic failures of oversight, CBP’s abject failure to hold its own personnel accountable, and a complete lack of transparency, the last thing the agency should be permitted to do is purge its own records,” the ACLU said.