People Want To Donate Diapers And Toys To Children At Border Patrol Facilities In Texas. They’re Being Turned Away.

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Above Photo: From left: Meagan O’Toole-Pitts, Ashley Cortez, Oliver Cortez, and his father, Mark Cortez, attempt to drop off diapers and toys for detained children at the immigration detention center in Clint.  Courtesy of Armando Martinez Photography

A Border Patrol official told a state lawmaker that the agency doesn’t accept donations for facilities where children are reportedly being held in substandard conditions.

*Editor’s note: This story was updated Tuesday to include information from a former U.S. Customs and Border Protection advisor about why the agency isn’t accepting donations.

On Sunday, Austin Savage and five of his friends huddled into an SUV and went to an El Paso Target, loading up on diapers, wipes, soaps and toys.

About $340 later, the group headed to a Border Patrol facility holding migrant children in nearby Clint with the goal of donating their goods. Savage said he and his friends had read an article from The New York Times detailing chaos, sickness and filth in the overcrowded facility, and they wanted to help.

But when they arrived, they found that the lobby was closed. The few Border Patrol agents — Savage said there were between eight and 10 of them — moving in and out of a parking facility ignored them.

For a while, the group stood there dumbfounded about what to do next. Ultimately, they decided to pack up and head home. Savage said he wasn’t completely surprised by the rejection; before he left, the group spotted a discarded plastic bag near the lobby door holding toothpaste and soap that had a note attached to it: “I heard y’all need soap + toothpaste for kids.”

Courtesy of Armando Martinez Photography

“A good friend of mine is an immigration attorney, and he warned us that we were going to get rejected,” Savage said. “We were aware of that, but it’s just the idea of doing something as opposed to passively allowing this to occur.”

Border Patrol facilities are only supposed to hold detained migrants for a short period of time, until they are processed. But an influx of migrants along the southwest border has stretched facilities in places like Clint and McAllen beyond capacity, leading to what people who have visited them have called unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

A slew of other sympathetic people, advocacy groups and lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have expressed a desire to lend a hand to the kids housed in the facilities. But after purchasing items like toys, soap, toothbrushes, diapers and medicine — especially as news reports circulate of facilities having drinking water that tastes like bleach and sick children without enough clothing — they’ve been met with a common message: No donations are being accepted.

“It makes me feel powerless knowing there’s children taking care of toddlers and little kids,” said Gabriel Acuña, who grew up in Clint and attempted to visit the facility in his hometown Sunday morning. “Knowing what’s happening in your community and that you can’t give these kids supplies to clean or clothe themselves — it’s heartbreaking.

“For God’s sake, they’re kids, man.”

The substandard living conditions have been described in great detail over the past few weeks. Last week, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice argued in court that the government shouldn’t be required to give migrant children inside Border Patrol detention facilities toothbrushes, soap, towels or showers.

Most have assigned blame for the substandard living conditions to federal officials who are unsure of how to handle the influx of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. The surge has also overwhelmed facilities and led to serious health and safety risks for those sheltered in them. Some kids and teens have spent nearly a month without adequate food or water. Nearly a dozen others in a McAllen facility were sick with the flu.

Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg tweeted this weekend that he wrote to Border Patrol asking for a list of acceptable items to donate. He said officials told his office by email they do not accept donations.

“The whole situation is disgusting, but I’m always hopeful that the better part of us as human beings will shine through,” said Canales, whose district neighbors the McAllen facility. “Those children feel like the world has given up on them, and we have to fight for them.”

An official with Border Patrol did not respond to a request for comment, but Theresa Brown, a former policy advisor for U.S. Customs and Border Protections, said there’s a legal reason why Border Patrol and other government agencies aren’t accepting donations from do-gooders.

Under the Antideficiency Act, the government can’t spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has allocated to it. The theory behind not accepting donations, Brown said, is so that the government isn’t beholden to private-sector entities for what should be appropriated government actions.

“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,” she said. “Without a change in law, DHS, CPB and Border Patrol cannot accept those private donations.”

But despite getting their donation requests denied, some sympathetic Texans are remaining persistent.

Canales said he had a conference call Monday morning with Rodolfo Karisch, U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector chief, and had a “short but productive conversation” about the living conditions for kids being held in processing facilities.

“These kids are being underserved, and they’re not getting what they need,” Canales said. “We discussed diapers, hygiene products, and I pressed upon him that from a PR perspective that it looks terrible we’re not meeting their needs and they’re not accepting donations from the public.

“He, to some extent, agreed with me and said he would get back with me and see how we can collaborate,” he said. “So the lines of communication are open.”

Acuña, who attempted to donate bars of soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste from a local Dollar Tree this weekend, said a lot of people have reached out to him after he publicized his encounter at the Clint facility. He said he is working to get in contact with town leadership to come up with a plan of action moving forward.

“If the government isn’t going to do anything, then let the community help and do something for these kids,” Acuña said.

Savage, meanwhile, plans to visit the same Clint facility Monday with the same diapers, wipes, soaps and toys. He’s going with low expectations — especially since a number of kids have been moved from the facility after reports of poor living conditions.

“We imagine they will reject it,” he said.

If they do, he plans to turn to local organizations, such as the Annunciation House, that are housing families that Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained and separated on the El Paso-Juarez border. (Click here to see how you can help children detained along the border).

“In an ideal world, the facility would accept it, so we’re going to ask with all sincerity that they do,” Savage said. “Hopefully they say yes, but we want to show that these are not circumstances preventing these children from being taken care of, but a policy.

“Even if we get rejected,” he said, “at least we made the effort.”

A Border Patrol substation in Clint where young migrant children were being held.  Ivan Pierre Aguirre

  • emernel

    If groups want to do something constructive they should tear down the fences and free the prisoners and jail the sick fucks who have. Allowed this in humane fascist prisons to exist.

    When do you think the gas chambers will start operating.

    Every American citizen should be ashamed of what this psychopathic government is doing.

  • rgaura

    These companies charge the US taxpayers $750 per day per person services! Where are the lawsuits?

  • mwildfire

    Yes. And there will be vigils all over the country July 12. It’s wrong headed to press to be allowed to donate basic needs to these prisoners–the government which has detained them SHOULD provide for all those needs. Of course they have the money, the DOD wastes millions daily on pure graft. And many of these facilities are private profit centers where someone’s getting $750/day per inmate. They can find enough money for hygiene items and decent food out of that.

  • mwildfire

    So are these concentration camps, can they be compared to Nazi death camps? Yes, and no. But consider this–the Nazi death camps became what they became because non-Jewish Germans were full of anti-semitism and hungry for scapegoats, so they allowed it. It will get uglier here too if we don’t put a stop to this. I don’t think there is much of an anti-Latino attitude in the US but hostility to immigrants is a universal component of societies moving toward fascism. A key is an unconscious assumption that there will not be enough to go around so the Other must be kept away from resources. Climate change and other crises bearing down on us make it clear, even through the fog of denial, that the time of scarcity is coming. What sharpens the injustice is that with few exceptions, the safe places to which people are already fleeing are the places which have contributed the most to the problems. But no place will be safe forever.

  • chetdude

    The “Nazi death camps” began as concentration camps EXACTLY like the ones that housed Japanese people (most of them American Citizens) during WWII and these camps**…then they evolved toward the death camps to provide the “Final Solution”.

    Of course the Trump and his worst supporters believe that the “Final Solution” to the Black, Asian and Latino Problem would be quite similar to that the 3rd Reich ended up implementing.

    ** Of course, the entire USAmerican Gulag resembles Nazi concentration camps except in the U.S. case the most rapacious inmates are put in charge…

  • chetdude

    I’d say ship the kids to Washington, DC and book them rooms at Trump Tower… It would be cheaper…

  • mwildfire

    Yes…what I’m saying is that it got worse in Germany (and the countries it conquered and had concentration camps in) because the people failed to put a stop to it–in part because the Nazis successfully intimidated people but also because antisemitism was rife in Germany. We can stop it from getting worse here.

  • chetdude

    And don’t forget that along with some Jews among the FIRST residents of the Nazi concentration camps were Social Democrats, Communists, Socialists, Trade Unionists, Gypsies and Homosexuals. The same folks Trump and his worst Brownshirts have been taught to hate and fear…

  • mwildfire

    Yes. Here I donb’t think Jews are likely to be among the victims. And I actually think Trump is directing the vilification at Latinx immigrants, not because he hates Latinos but because his advisors thought immigrants would be the safest targets for the scapegoating operation every nascent fascist movement needs. Along with Muslims–that one has faded some.

  • Sabrina

    Where are the services?!