Commissioner Discusses CBP Issues at Migration Policy Institute
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske spoke about his vision for CBP and the agency’s pressing concerns during the Migration Policy Institute’s leadership vision series Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C.
MPI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide. During the leadership vision sessions, senior officials from federal agencies speak to audiences about their agency policies and programs.
Doris Meissner, an MPI senior fellow and former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, introduced Commissioner Kerlikowske and served as the moderator for the program.
“CBP is the nation’s first unified border management agency and is often referred to as one face at the border,” said Commissioner Kerlikowske in his opening remarks. “This unified border agency has allowed us to craft a comprehensive border strategy, not only to secure the border, but also to support the economy.”
“The Southwest border is more secure than it has been in decades,” the Commissioner said. “But we have seen this influx of Central American migrants, including unaccompanied children and families, with the vast majority coming into the Rio Grande Valley. I see this influx of families and children as a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Commissioner Kerlikowske noted that the administration's work with Central American leaders – to publicize the dangers of the journey and reinforce that people apprehended at the border who do not qualify for humanitarian relief are being returned to their home countries – has made a big difference in reducing the numbers of migrants.
The Commissioner spoke about the vigorous and coordinated federal response to the humanitarian crisis and federal efforts “to increase deterrence, enforcement and our cooperation with foreign countries,” noting that those efforts have resulted in a decline in the number of Central American migrants trying to illegally cross the Southwest border – a result he described as “very good news.”
The Commissioner cited a recent Pew Center report that asserts CBP’s efforts are working. After rapid expansion from 1990-2006, the unauthorized immigrant population within the U.S. has leveled off since 2007”.
Meissner asked the Commissioner if he came into the agency with the idea that issues concerning use of force and overall transparency were part of what “you saw as an essential first step or a response to issues that arose when you arrived?”
The Commissioner replied, “During the five years I served the President as his drug policy advisor, I had the chance to write the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy and the opportunity to work with people from CBP quite a bit. I had a very good sense of the organization. The concerns about transparency and use of force were ones well known to me. Therefore, having a law enforcement background, I feel I am particularly well suited to take this issue on and to be held accountable. Basically, I knew it coming in.”
Patrick Byrne, Europol senior representative in the U.S., during the audience Q&A session agreed with Commissioner Kerlikowske that information sharing is critical, especially for combating the shared international threat of terrorism and for dealing with the global issue of countering violent extremism.
“Europol is delighted that CBP, under Mr. Kerlikowske’s leadership, has shown its commitment to enhancing the safety and security of global citizens by several means, including the placement of a CBP officer in the Europol headquarters in The Hague,” he said. “This has increased cooperation and active engagement with all the European law enforcement partners helping to effectively fight terrorism and organized crime.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.