Sen. Kamala Harris demanded Thursday that the head of Customs and Border Protection explain the rationale behind his agency’s deployment of border agents to anti-police brutality protests and marches across the country.
“Given your mission to focus on our borders, why are you deploying your folks to these protests?” Harris asked CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The hearing focused on the issues CBP is working to address, including drug and human trafficking and screening migrants along the Southern border.
While many committee members praised CBP’s response in following CDC guidelines to limit immigration to the U.S. amid the pandemic, Harris and fellow Democratic Sen. Margaret Hassan of New Hampshire pressed Morgan on recent issues involving the agency, including actions from CBP border agents and the agency’s misspending claims.
The hearing came exactly two weeks after a Government Accountability Office report revealed CBP misspent part of a 2019 emergency funding bill reserved for migrant care, which Hassan later questioned Morgan on.
According to a June 11 audit from the GAO, CBP spent an unspecified amount of Congress’ nearly $4.6 billion emergency appropriations bill on items such as dirt bikes, boats, a CBP-wide vaccine program for personnel and computer network updates, among others.
The bill, also known as the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act, allocated funds to CBP and other government agencies to cover expenses related to the growing number of Central American migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border last year.
According to the GAO audit, CBP’s misspending came from a $112 million portion of the bill that was allocated specifically for “consumables and medical care.”
When Hassan asked Morgan how much CBP misspent on equipment, he did not provide a definite answer and said that confusion over some of CBP’s spending is a result of “technical errors.”
Morgan said the GAO is questioning $60 million of the $112 million designated to consumables and medical care is what officials are questioning. “About half of that [$60 million], we believe, were due to some technical errors… $30 million is really what is left that we think is in question,” Morgan said.
Morgan said he does not agree that the money was “misspent” and the $30 million in question requires further analysis.
“We believe that there was no violation to the Antideficiency Act, meaning we believe all the charges appear to be valid CBP-operating expenses, we just may have put them in the wrong buckets,” he said.
The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal agencies from obligating or spending federal funds that are in excess of the amounts or purposes approved by Congress.
Later in the hearing, Harris pressed Morgan on why she hadn’t received a response from CBP on several questions she had posed to the agency related to its deployment of personnel to recent demonstrations and protests across the U.S. following the deaths of several Black men and women at the hands of police.
In a June 1 tweet about the deployments, Morgan said, “Border Patrol Sectors are working with law enforcement partners across our nation to prevent further looting, rioting, arson, vandalism & destruction of property. As a federal law enforcement agency, it’s our duty & responsibility to respond when our partners request support.”
Harris said she sent a letter to Morgan on June 5 asking for CBP to provide information regarding the agency’s actions at those demonstrations, including the types of identification and equipment CBP personnel were authorized to carry and the forms of force they were authorized to use. Harris demanded Morgan respond to her letter by the end of next week.
But a written response to her letter wasn’t all that Harris demanded. The California Democrat and former presidential candidate also asked Morgan to clarify who specifically ordered the deployment of CBP personnel to the ongoing nationwide protests.
According to Morgan, CBP received requests to deploy CBP personnel from various federal agencies and state and local police departments. He did not name any individuals or specific agencies.
Harris, who was the last committee member to question Morgan, demanded that he send a list of all the locations CBP personnel were deployed and the names of the requesters to her office.