- The Customs and Border Protection agency spent funds meant for humanitarian assistance on items like ATVs and dirt bikes, a Government Accountability Office report said.
- Congress allocated some $112 million for “consumables and medical care,” and the GAO determined that many of CBP’s expenditures didn’t meet that criteria.
- CBP acknowledged that it charged some of its expenses incorrectly and said it was taking action immediately.
- Congress’ funding last year came amid an unprecedented surge in asylum-seekers, which outpaced CBP’s ability to detain them and resulted in deplorable conditions and even deaths in Border Patrol stations.
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Immigration officials at the Customs and Border Protection agency misused funding meant for humanitarian assistance for migrants, and spent it instead on its canine program and items like boats, ATVs, and dirt bikes, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
Last year, amid a surge in migrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border, Congress passed a $4.6 billion bill to fund both increased border security and aiding the migrants detained in Border Patrol stations. The number of migrants seeking asylum in the US rapidly outpaced CBP’s ability to detain them, resulting in overcrowding, deplorable conditions, and even the deaths of migrant children.
As part of the funding bill, Congress allocated roughly $112 million specifically for “consumables and medical care” for the migrants. According to the GAO, CBP used some of that money correctly — including on items like hygiene products, food, and clothing.
But some of that money also went to unrelated expenditures, including CBP’s canine program, a vaccine program for CBP staff, computer network upgrades, and vehicles like the dirt bikes and ATVs.
Those items did not qualify as “consumables and medical care,” the GAO report said.
“CBP did not — nor did it attempt to — make any connection between these obligations and the consumables and medical care line item appropriation,” the GAO report said. “Because CBP did not show, and we do not otherwise see, a reasonable nexus between those obligations and the consumables and medical care line appropriation, we conclude that CBP violated the purpose statute and should adjust its accounts.”
The agency said in a statement that the violations were “technical in nature,” and that the agency planned to take action to remedy the situation.
“CBP charged a small subset of expenses in fiscal year 2019 to the incorrect amount. We are working to itemize all such expenses and correct our accounts as recommended by the GAO,” the agency told NBC News in a statement. “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.”
Congressional Democrats immediately condemned the CBP’s spending, accusing the agency of breaking the law by misusing the funds.
“Instead of helping migrants and improving conditions on the ground, CBP then broke the law by spending this taxpayer money on things that were not authorized—such as ATVs, dirt bikes, and computer systems,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “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.”