Report: CBP violated law in using emergency funds on dirt bikes, boats

The Government Accountability Office ruled that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials broke the law when they used funds intended for migrant care on items such as boats, dirt bikes, and leashes for dogs, according to the GAO report.

In June 2019, Congress passed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act to provide emergency funds for migrants seeking asylum arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border for several agencies, the report stated. Those agencies included CBP, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But according to the report, CBP used a portion of the supplemental funds — about $112 million — on items other than for migrant care. Those items were dirt bikes, boats, computer network updates, heating ventilation and air conditioning improvements, dog food and leashes — all of which are not allowed in the appropriation’s statute.

Despite this, during the course of an audit requested by the Committee on Homeland Security, GAO found that CBP used these funds contrary to what was allowed by the law.

The GAO noted that the June 2019 legislation contained line item appropriations of $112 million for “consumables and medical care” and $708 million for “establishing and operating migrant care and processing facilities.”

“CBP also obligated the consumables and medical care line item appropriation for transportation-related items, including vehicles such as ATVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, boats, passenger vans, and small utility vehicles,” the report read in part.

During the increase in asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019, CBP officials time and time again pushed a narrative that they needed more help from lawmakers to combat the increase in arrivals at the border by way of funds and manpower.

But advocates for the asylum seekers, and family units arriving at the border, argue the Trump administration caused the issues at the border by enacting strong anti-immigration policy; specifically when it began unconstitutionally blocking people from seeking legal asylum status.

Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. Rep Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, echoed the report’s findings of inappropriate usage, in a prepared statement last Thursday.

“At the Trump Administration’s request, Congress passed emergency funding legislation last year to help address the humanitarian crisis at the border largely created by this Administration and consistently made worse with repeated politically charged, anti-immigrant policies,” Thompson said in a prepared statement.

“Congress provided this additional funding for the primary purpose of improving conditions for migrants at the border and ensuring migrants were receiving adequate healthcare after the deaths of multiple children in custody. 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 for migrants in its care.”

According to the report, CBP plans to adjust its accounts for several of these obligations and should do so for any additional purpose violations by obligating the account available for the appropriate purpose.

“We conclude that CBP violated the purpose statute when it obligated the line item appropriations in the 2019 Emergency Supplemental for goods and services that were not within the purpose availability of such line items,” the report stated.