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Feds: Border Patrol Spent Money Meant For Medical Supplies On ATVs, Dirt Bikes

Reps Katie Porter, D-Irvine, Mike Levin, D-Oceanside and Juan Vargas, D-San Diego at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station on August 28, 2019.
Office of Rep. Mike Levin
Reps Katie Porter, D-Irvine, Mike Levin, D-Oceanside and Juan Vargas, D-San Diego at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station on August 28, 2019.

Last summer, as thousands of asylum-seekers arrived at the southern border, the Border Patrol asked Congress for billions of dollars to help provide them with medical care and adequate shelter.

The agency had come under criticism for the poor conditions that migrants were being held in at Border Patrol stations or ad hoc outdoor holding cells. Many migrants complained they didn't have access to soap or toothpaste.

Customs and Border Protection, of which the Border Patrol is a part, got more than $800 million for medicine, food, housing and humanitarian aid. But now the federal Government Accountability Office said some of the money didn’t go to those things.

In a legal decision published on Thursday, the GAO said the Border Patrol spent part of the money on things like dirt bikes, ATVs, and its canine program. The GAO said all that spending was against the law.

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“Congress appropriated additional amounts to CBP in July 2019 to respond to a significant rise in individuals at the southwest border,” Chuck Young, a spokesperson for the GAO, told KPBS in a statement. “Such amounts were available only for the purposes for which Congress had provided them, including 'consumables and medical care' and ‘establishing and operating migrant care and processing facilities.'"

He also said CBP violated the law when it used the money for other purposes, which also included buying vans and computer network upgrades.

Border Patrol told KPBS the discrepancy was due to an accounting error. The agency said it is working to itemize all expenses and follow the recommendations laid out by the GAO.

"The violations identified are technical in nature and prompt remedial action will be taken,” a spokesperson told KPBS.

But immigrant advocates are skeptical of this explanation.

“I just cannot see a justification. Or how anyone would confuse giving dog food or riot gear and ATV’s or dirt bikes,” said Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “That doesn’t fit the definition of humanitarian assistance in any universe and furthermore, it was another example of the depravity of prioritizing those items over human life.”