Correction 6/25 1:53 p.m.: A previous headline on this story incorrectly identified John Sanders' title. The headline has been updated.
When John Sanders resigned as the head of Customs and Border Protection, he said the role transformed him “personally and professionally.”
That role included addressing the recent influx of asylum seekers, many of them children, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, Sanders had to manage another crisis: allegations that children and infants had been held in filthy, crowded Border Patrol stations for weeks.
In a letter to his staff Tuesday, Sanders announced that he’d given his resignation to his boss, Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan, a day earlier.
“Although I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful, I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of CBP has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career,” he wrote.
Sanders, previously the agency’s chief operating officer, was promoted to acting director in April. The position was previously held by McAleenan, who was tapped to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as DHS secretary after she resigned in April.
During Sanders’ brief tenure as head of the agency, three child migrants — one 2-year-old and two teenagers — died in CBP custody. And in June, a group of attorneys visited two Texas Border Patrol facilities and noticed children languishing in filth.
One attorney who visited the Ursula processing center in McAllen, Texas, Hope Frye, told VICE News that interviewed one teenage mother who had been in the facility with her premature baby for a week without proper medical treatment. Dozens of other children had the flu.
Warren Binford, another attorney who visited a different facility in Clint, Texas, said several children had told her they had been forced to sleep on the floor and go days without showers. Like the children in the Ursula facility, dozens of children at the Clint station were sick with what appeared to be the flu. Many also had lice.
A spokesperson for the Administration of Children and Families, which oversees the agency charged with caring for unaccompanied migrant kids, told VICE News that 249 children had been transferred from the Clint facility to shelters. But the New York Times reported that other children were sent to a CBP tent facility in El Paso, and that 100 children were returned to the Clint facility.
Here’s Sanders’ full statement to the agency’s employees:
As some of you are aware, yesterday I offered my resignation to Secretary McAleenan, effective Friday, July 5. In that letter, I quoted a wise man who said to me, “each man will judge their success by their own metrics.” Although I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful, I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of CBP has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the last several days reflecting on my time at CBP. When I began this journey, Commissioner McAleenan charged me with aligning the mission support organizations and accelerating his priorities. Easy enough, I thought. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how the journey would transform me professionally and personally. This transformation was due in large part to the fact that people embraced and welcomed me in a way that was new to me – in a way that was truly special. To this day, I get choked up when speaking about it and I can’t adequately express my thanks. As a result, let me simply say I will never stop defending the people and the mission for which 427 people gave their lives in the line of duty in defending. Hold your heads high with the honor and distinction that you so richly deserve.
Throughout our journey together, your determination and can-do attitude made the real difference. It allowed CBP to accomplish what others thought wasn’t possible…what others weren’t able to do. And even though there is uncertainty during change, there is also opportunity. I therefore encourage everyone to reflect on all that you have accomplished as a team. My hope is you build upon your accomplishments and embrace new opportunities, remain flexible, and continue to make CBP extraordinary. This is your organization…own it! Don’t underestimate the power of momentum as you continue to tackle some of this country’s most difficult challenges.
I will forever be honored to have served beside you. As a citizen of this great country, I thank you for your public service.
Take care of each other,
Cover: Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner John Sanders speaks at a news conference proposing legislation to address the crisis at the southern border at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)