Why Did Acting CBP Commissioner Sanders Resign Instead of His Boss?

By Dan Cadman on June 27, 2019

Following the furor over unaccompanied minors being held for unacceptable periods in holding cells — cells that were only ever intended for keeping adult illegal border-crossers for short stints pending relocation to more appropriate facilities — acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) head John Sanders has tendered his resignation.

In other words, Sanders has had the albatross hung across his neck for conditions not of his making. My colleague Art Arthur has spoken eloquently and at length about the responsibility that Congress should properly be shouldering for not having provided CBP, or indeed any Department of Homeland Security (DHS) component — or even the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services — the financial, human, health, and physical facility resources needed to humanely address the problem, so I won't delve any farther into that.

Those minors got stuck in the temporary holding cells for inordinate periods because CBP was caught between a rock and a hard place: not allowed to turn them over to anyone except ORR and unable to give them to ORR because that organization had run out of both money and government or contract facilities to place the minors.

Sanders' boss, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, spoke to his imminent departure this way:

This week, Mr. John P. Sanders offered his resignation as Chief Operating Officer and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner, effective Friday, July 5. I would like to thank Mr. Sanders for his service and for assuming the highest role at CBP at one of the most tenuous times in the Department's history. ... On behalf of the entire Department, I want to thank Mr. Sanders for his outstanding service to CBP and to our nation, and I wish him the very best for the future.

Kind but, in the end meaningless, words.

It's worth noting for the record that, unlike Sanders, who was only recently pushed upward into the role of acting CBP commissioner, McAleenan himself wore the hat of CBP commissioner for a considerable period of time before he was updrafted to DHS's number-one spot after the resignation of former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and her deputy. And before that, he ran CBP's Office of Field Operations, the division that is responsible for inspections at all U.S. air, land, and sea ports.

My question is simple: Where is McAleenan's resignation? Would it not seem fitting that, if there is to be a sacrificial offering, it should more appropriately be McAleenan? He would be no loss either to the Department or to the government's effort to reestablish its lost control over the nation's immigration controls, at the border or elsewhere because he's not really invested in it. (See here and here.)