Why Border Patrol Turned Away Donations For Kids In Its Custody

by Lani Seelinger
John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Ever since The New York Times broke the news about squalid conditions at a Border Patrol facility meant to be providing a safe shelter for migrant children, numerous people have attempted to make the situation for those children just a little bit better by donating supplies. As it turns out, though, Border Patrol officials weren't willing to accept any of the donations. Here's why you can't donate to kids held by Border Patrol — and what you can do instead.

According to a report from The Times, children being held at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas, did not have access to toothbrushes, toothpaste, or soap. Lawyers for the U.S. government argued in court that it was not its responsibility to prove such necessities. Toddlers were reportedly left without diapers, soiling their pants. But when a group showed up to donate these items, it was turned away.

The reason for that is a law called the Antideficiency Act, and according to Bloomberg, it goes all the way back to 1870.

The Antideficiency Act does two things: stops federal agencies from spending or committing to spend funds that Congress hasn't budgeted to them, and prevents federal agencies from "accepting voluntary services for the United States, or employing personal services not authorized by law." Donations are included under the umbrella of "voluntary services," according to The Texas Tribune.

“It’s partially a constitutional thing about Congress controlling the purse and only being able to spend money that Congress gives, but it’s also about ethics,” former U.S. Customs and Border Protections policy advisor Theresa Brown told The Texas Tribune. “Without a change in law, DHS, CPB and Border Patrol cannot accept those private donations.”

Because the agencies can only be funded by Congress, federal agencies are only beholden to the American people as a whole, rather than to the individuals or groups who decide they want to donate goods or services to those agencies, as Bloomberg described.

This was the reason why the government couldn't accept money raised to build President Donald Trump's border wall in a GoFundMe campaign, according to Bloomberg, and it's also the reason why Border Patrol can't accept your diaper and toothbrush donations — no matter how much the children in their care may appear to need them, as the New York Times reporting showed.

So if you want to help migrant children at the border, don't attempt to donate anything to Border Patrol itself. Instead, you can donate to the many humanitarian organizations working on behalf of immigrants arriving in the United States. If you want your money to go directly to organizations based in Texas — where the Border Patrol facility is located — then check out Las Americas or RAICES. These organizations know what the immigrant population needs and how to provide it — and most of all, they'll happily accept your donation.