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Border Patrol blocking Americans from donating toothbrushes and diapers for detained children

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Donald Trump on the US-Mexico Border

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.”

“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.”

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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.

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“For God’s sake, they’re kids, man.”

The less-than-ideal 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 facilitywere sick with the flu.

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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. An official with Border Patrol did not respond to a request for comment.

“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.”

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 conservation” about the living conditions for kids being held in processing facilities.

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