Border Patrol Bought Dirtbikes With Money Budgeted for Medicine

A new government report found that the Border Patrol took money set aside for migrant medical expenses and bought ATVs, boats, and a new air conditioning system.
June 15, 2020, 3:30pm
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Border Patrol agent patrols South Texas border on an all terrain vehicle (ATV) taken on September 23, 2013. Image: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) misappropriated money meant to provide migrants with medical care to buy ATVs, boats, and dirt bikes, according to a new report from government watchdogs in Congress.

Congress sets tightly controlled budgets for government agencies. If CBP wants dirtbikes and ATVs, it has to ask Congress for the cash and declare it as part of its budget. But according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which investigates agencies on behalf of Congress, CBP didn’t want to pay for dirt bikes with its dirt bike budget. Instead, it used money set aside for “consumable and medical care” and “establishing migrant care and processing facilities.”

According to the GAO, “CBP obligated the consumables and medical care line item appropriation for CBP’s canine program; the CBP-wide vaccine program for CBP personnel; computer network upgrades; transportation-related items such as boats, all-terrain vehicles, and dirt bikes; and building equipment and services such as HVAC upgrades, sewer system upgrades, and janitorial services.”

The medical goods CBP can purchase are strictly defined. And, more importantly, the purchase of those goods is an obligation. “In analyzing statutory language, we assume that each word has meaning and that Congress was aware of such meaning when it included each term in the legislation,” the report said.

When the GAO questioned CBP for using its migrant medical budget to buy printers, security cameras, and speakers, CBP didn’t even bother to justify the purchases. “CBP did not—nor did it attempt to—make any connection between these obligations and the consumables and medical care line item appropriation,” the report said.

CBP did try to claim that it needed the dirtbikes, ATVs, and boats so it could properly render medical care to migrants entering the United States. “However, for the transportation-related items CBP uses to perform its border enforcement duties and to transport individuals as part of CBP’s operations, we find no nexus to consumables or medical care,” the GAO said. “Further, CBP did not provide any explanation as to how these items relate to the consumables and medical care line item appropriation. Therefore, we conclude that CBP violated the purpose statute when it obligated the consumables and medical care line item appropriation for these purposes and should adjust its accounts.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection requested more than $16 billion in funds in 2019. It has used that money to build portions of a wall along America’s southern border with Mexico, construct large detention facilities for immigrants, and pay the salaries of its employees. The misappropriation scandal speaks to CBP’s terrible history with healthcare. Coronavirus is running through its detention centers and migrant-rights groups have long accused CBP of neglecting the basic medical care of the people it detains.