AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Over the weekend, a group of volunteers from Jolt Action were turned away when they brought donations to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas.
“We got there and we had over $1,000 of donations to provide them with,” Jason Choto, one of the volunteers, said.
Items included toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, shampoo and toys for children.
“We want more resources to be allocated to these communities and we want to know why we weren’t able to donate these resources,” Choto said.
Republican Congressman Chip Roy has filed a bill that would allow for government facilities, including Border Patrol facilties and ICE’s detention centers, to accept donations. Roy’s legislation, called the Charitable Donations Freedom Act, was filed in response to an article by The Texas Tribune that highlighted how a group that went to a Border Patrol facility in Clint with donations was turned away.
“The purpose of the law change we’ve proposed is to first of all, start a conversation, and second of all, to make sure there is no federal barrier to helping anybody, regardless of where we’re talking about,” he said.
Roy’s bill would amend the Antideficiency Act to define the term “voluntary services” and it would not include the “donation of goods.” Right now, that act legally prevents the U.S. government from accepting donations like those taken to Border Patrol facilities.
Some border security experts say this situation isn’t new. Ben Rohrbaugh, who is with BorderWorks Advisors, previously served as the Director for Enforcement and Border Security with the White House’s National Security Council and worked as a counselor in the commissioner’s office for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He dealt with this issue back in 2014-15, when there was a wave of unaccompanied immigrant minors.
“The Antideficiency Act is put in place to keep federal officials from making commitments on behalf of the government that Congress hasn’t authorized and from spending money that Congress hasn’t appropriated,” he said.
Rohrbaugh said the Antideficiency Act was not written with the intention of keeping Border Patrol officials from turning away donations of diapers and other items.
“I would frankly be surprised if anyone were actually punished for accepting something like this, although I guess it’s legally possible,” he said.
Rohrbaugh added that there was also previously concern that the donated goods and food items weren’t appropriated for the specific situations at hand and items that were needed weren’t provided.
“People would give books or blankets that couldn’t be shared among the different children,” he said. “I think there’s also an administrative burden on Customs and Border Protection to just process all of these donations and figure out which ones could be used and which ones couldn’t.”
Rohrbaugh said Roy’s bill would address the specific question of whether donations could be accepted, but there’s a larger issue at hand.
“That problem is that we don’t have appropriate facilities at the border for the intake of the populations who are arriving,” he said.
Roy, whose district covers the area north San Antonio and a significant portion of Austin, hopes his bill can encourage lawmakers and the White House to figure out the best solutions moving forward.
“There are a lot of things we’ve got to go through to figure out what the rules are, how to make sure stuff is safe, making sure it’s appropriate for the facility in question, making sure it’s timely and making sure there’s a process for doing it,” he said.