Under President Trump's leadership, the United States has ramped up xenophobic policies and abuse of migrants. Last year, Congress passed a $4.6 billion bill to increase border security, but it also provided money for helping migrants detained by Customs and Border Protection. But instead, CBP used money intended for migrants to purchase unnecessary items.
The rush to pass the border bill was driven by reports of migrants, particularly children, being mistreated and left to die in detention centers. While the abuse of migrant children isn't unique to Trump alone — abuse by the Border Patrol, the law enforcement arm of CBP, was prevalent under the Obama administration too — high-profile deaths like those of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez have brought increased attention to CBP now.
About $112 million of funding was supposed to be for "consumables and medical care" for migrants. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time of the bill's passing, in response to the Senate refusing to include additional migrant child protections or accountability measures, that "the children come first. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available. In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly support the Senate bill."
But a Government Accountability Office report released last week says CBP misused the funds to purchase boats, ATVs, dirt bikes, and more. In addition, CBP used funds for its canine program, which included purchasing supplements, food, and leashes for dogs. The money was specifically stipulated for migrant care.
"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 news of CBP's spending has been condemned by top Democrats. On Twitter, Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote, "CBP and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] are out of control. It's time to hold these officials accountable for abuses, dismantle our cruel immigration system, and build a new one that is accountable, humane, and just."
Along with Sanders, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, commented on the watchdog's findings. In a statement, Thompson said, "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."
"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 to migrants in its care," Thompson continued.
CBP's erroneous spending is particularly hurtful in the midst of a pandemic. Last month, reports broke that a single Chicago shelter for migrant kids had 37 reported cases of coronavirus. All of this follows the Trump administration's reluctance to free children or reunite families. In March, a federal judge ordered the administration to prove why it was still detaining migrant children.
The danger that detention facilities facilities posed to children's health was already known, as migrant children have died in detention facilities due to treatable conditions like the flu. Kevin McAleenan, the former acting homeland security secretary, once confirmed that every child in CBP custody did not have access to a pediatrician.
In a statement to NBC News, CBP said, "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."
"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 agency added.