Congress

DHS faces pressure to accept diapers, soap donations for detained migrants

Reports of unsanitary conditions have prompted donations that the agency has turned away

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is calling for the Department of Homeland Security to accept donations of soap and diapers at Customs and Border Patrol facilities. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Ted Cruz is urging the Department of Homeland Security to establish procedures that would allow it and Customs and Border Protection to accept charitable donations of items such as diapers and soap for migrant children being held in border detention facilities.

The Texas Republican wrote a letter to acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan this week, asking him to prioritize accepting donations from concerned Americans.

[Democrats decry harsh conditions after border facility tours]

President Donald Trump signed a $4.59 billion supplemental spending bill Monday to aid cash-strapped agencies struggling to house a surge of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border. But earlier reports of migrant children being held in poor conditions and overcrowded shelters without access to diapers, soap and other supplies have mobilized individuals and organizations to provide them.

“Many Americans, however, also want to provide more direct and tangible help — they want to donate basic items such as diapers and toothbrushes to children in CBP custody,” Cruz wrote. “This desire is laudable, and deeply rooted in our nation’s history. Americans have long banded together to form charities and faith-based organizations to aid those in need.”

[$4.59B border aid package signed into law]

Cruz’s letter pointed to reports that donations of soap, toothpaste, diapers and more have been turned away by CPB officials at the same detention centers where asylum seekers are reported to be without these hygiene supplies.

“I thus urge you to establish and publicize a process for accepting donations from charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, and NGOs to aid individuals in CBP custody. Even with the additional supplemental emergency funding, I am confident that DHS and CBP can still use the generosity of the American people to help manage the humanitarian crisis on our border,” he wrote.

Cruz isn’t the only Texas Republican pushing for the CBP to accept donations from generous Lone Star State residents. Rep. Chip Roy introduced a bill last week that would allow the agency to take in the donated supplies.

Under the Antideficiency Act, government agencies can’t spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has allocated to it. The law was intended to keep the government from being beholden or influenced by private-sector entities for what should be government-funded activities.

Roy’s proposal would amend a section of the Antideficiency Act to ensure that the term “voluntary services” does not include the donation of goods.

A Monday visit by House Democrats to CBP facilities at the U.S. southern border grew heated Monday as lawmakers reported harsh conditions, including lack of running water and detainees being told to drink from toilets.

In addition to action from Roy and Cruz, House Republican leaders have also weighed in on the lack of supplies at CBP facilities. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise both told reporters last week that CBP officials have been spending their own personal money on supplies for children in custody.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department argued in court that the government shouldn’t be required to give migrant children inside Border Patrol detention facilities toothbrushes, soap, towels or showers.

The aid bill signed into law Monday would provide $1.34 billion for DHS, including $905 million for the CBP to set up temporary facilities for migrants at border stations and ports of entry and provide basic necessities such as food, clothing and medical treatment.

Tanvi Misra contributed to this report. 

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