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Border agency provided inconsistent medical care to migrants in custody, watchdog finds

Posted July 15, 2020 2:36 p.m. EDT

— US Customs and Border Protection didn't provide consistent care to migrants in custody and in some cases failed to properly report deaths, according to a newly released report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report is the latest in a string of findings describing inadequate detention conditions in 2019, when a surge of migrants at the US-Mexico border overwhelmed government facilities and eventually resulted in Congress appropriating additional funds. GAO said its review was prompted in part by questions about CBP's medical care after three children died in custody between December 2018 and May 2019.

While CBP took steps to improve medical care in custody, the agency "has not consistently implemented enhanced medical care policies and procedures," according to the report. For example, during visits to CBP facilities in November 2019 in south Texas, the GAO found that while some facilities were conducting health interviews and medical assessments, others were not.

CBP also decided not to offer influenza vaccines despite a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but didn't document how it came to the decision, the GAO said.

CNN has reached out to CBP for comment about the report.

The report describes a lack of oversight and insufficient reporting mechanisms to track deaths in custody. "CBP does not have reliable information on deaths, serious injuries, and suicide attempts and has not consistently reported deaths of individuals in custody to Congress," the report states. GAO's review found 31 individuals died in custody along the southern border between fiscal years 2014 through 2019, but CBP documented only 20 deaths in reports.

The government watchdog also included details on the misuse of funds intended for medical care, following up a report released by the office last month with similar findings.

The supplemental funds provided to the Trump administration amid the crisis at the southern border included approximately $112 million for "consumables and medical care." As of May, 78% of those funds have been obligated, according to the GAO report. To that end, the government watchdog found that CBP violated appropriations law when it used some of the funds for purposes other than originally intended, like upgrades to computer networks.

Among the factors that contributed to those violations, the GAO said, was insufficient guidance to CBP offices and components about how the money was to be used as well as lack of oversight.

Rebecca Gambler, director of Homeland Security and Justice at the Government Accountability Office, is testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee at noon Wednesday.

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