The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Trump administration wasted nearly $70 million over a period of five months to jail fewer than 70 people at a tent city in Tornillo, Texas last year, including shelling out over $5 million for hundreds of thousands of meals that were never actually ordered because there were no detainees. We know mass detention has always been cruel and unnecessary—and as the report also shows, a complete waste of your money and mine.
“Based on our analysis, [Customs and Border Protection] paid approximately $5.3 million for meals it did not need during the initial period of performance,” the GAO said in the report. While CBP ordered meals for Tornillo’s full 2,500 capacity, in reality, only a couple dozen people were detained at a time during the prison camp’s five months of operation. “As such, CBP paid for about 675,000 meals during the initial period of performance despite only ordering 13,428 meals.”
“During the initial period of performance,” the GAO continued, “CBP paid the contractor to operate the facility at full capacity, including food and guard services, regardless of the number of individuals housed in the facility, due to the terms of the delivery order it negotiated with the contractor.” So few people were jailed at Tornillo that the round-the-clock guards vastly outnumbered the number of people, with quite a few left over.
“Based on our analysis, CBP paid approximately $6.7 million for 75 unarmed contract security guards on-site at the Tornillo facility at all times to report any situations with individuals held in the facility and provide facility and perimeter security, though the facility had an approximate average daily population of 28 adults,” the report said. In addition to about two dozen CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, nearly 120 Texas National Guardsmen were dispatched to assist in “logistical support, such as meal distribution and monitoring security cameras, among other things.”
Tornillo should have been thrown into the dustbin of history after it was previously used to jail thousands of migrant kids who came to the U.S. alone. During that period, congressional Democrats who tried to conduct their oversight responsibilities were blocked from entering. “We wanted to talk with the young people here and when I asked why we couldn’t talk to them, I was told that we shouldn’t interrupt their schedule," Sen. Mazie Hirono said at the time. "There’s probably a word for that and it’s called BS.”
Meanwhile, a report revealed the administration waived FBI background checks for staffers tasked with supervising kids, as BCFS, the organization contracted to run the prison camp, “filed more than 30 reports on ‘significant incidents’ at Tornillo ... some involving interactions between children and staff, but none of a sexual nature,” the AP reported in 2018. “I feel so bad for the kids who are still there,” a teen who had been freed from there told the AP at the time. “What if they have to spend Christmas there? They need a hug, and nobody is allowed to hug there. Following the children’s release, the administration kept Tornillo in place to instead jail adults.
In its report’s conclusions, the GAO said: “CBP ultimately paid millions of dollars for food service it did not need and allocated personnel resources to the facility that, as Border Patrol El Paso sector officials noted to us, could have been allocated to other missions.” But this can also be said about many of the administration’s actions, including keeping thousands of asylum-seekers who passed their initial interviews in detention, keeping up mass raids where ICE agents are tricking immigrants into thinking they’re police, and spending billions that could be used for ventilators and medical gear on a stupid wall.