Watchdog: Agency misspent money meant for migrant care


Marine interdiction agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations offer rides to DHS employees in the agency’s newest vessel, a 41-foot SAFE boat, near the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2019. The new boat is equipped with four 350 HP Mercury engines, touchscreen navigation, electro-optical / infrared sensors, and shock-mitigating seats. Performance specs of the vessel include a maximum speed of 58 knots (66 mph), a range of 350 nautical miles, a maximum gross weight of 20,000 lbs and an endurance of 10 hours. (CBP)

PHOENIX (AP) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection violated the law when it misspent money appropriated for migrant care on items like all-terrain vehicles, boats and its police dog program, according to a federal investigation.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday that CBP misspent some of the $112 million it was allocated for “consumables and medical care” on an emergency basis during a large increase in illegal border crossings in 2019.

In a statement to The Associated Press, CBP said it fully cooperated with GAO throughout its inquiry. It said the agency charged a small subset of expenses in Fiscal Year 2019 to the incorrect account.

A Port of Nogales canine sits nearby while Port Director Michael Humphries provides details to the press about the largest seizure of fentanyl in CBP history. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Nogales Commercial Facility seized nearly $4.6 million in fentanyl and methamphetamine totaling close to 650 pounds on Saturday, January 26, 2019 from a Mexican national when he attempted to enter the United States through the Port of Nogales. The methamphetamine seizure represents the third largest at an Arizona port. (CBP)

“We are working to itemize all such expenses, and correct our accounts as recommend by the GAO. We emphasize that, and GAO’s opinion does not suggest otherwise, all of CBP’s obligations were for lawful objects related to agency operations and the care of those in our custody; the violations identified are technical in nature and prompt remedial action will be taken,” the agency wrote.

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The spring and summer of 2019 saw an extraordinary jump in border crossings. In May, the Border Patrol apprehended nearly 133,000 people at the southern border. The numbers started to decrease after that, but by the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30, the agency had apprehended 851,508 people.

Reports of poor medical care and abuse were rampant. Several children and adults died in Border Patrol custody that fiscal year, including a 16-year-old boy who died of the flu in his Texas holding cell without anyone noticing for several hours.

In response to the uptick in arrivals, Congress allocated CBP an extra $708 million for “establishing and operating migrant care and processing facilities” and $112 million for “consumable and medical care.”

Some of the money meant for medical care and consumables— things such as hygiene products and baby items— was instead spent on the canine program, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, computer upgrades, janitorial services and boats, among others, according to the report.

U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, criticized the agency, saying it broke the law.

“This callous disregard for the law is yet another example of this administration’s continuing failure to carry out its duty to provide humane conditions and medical care for migrants in its care,” he said in a written statement.

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