Arizona's congressional delegation is demanding answers about why Customs and Border Protection spent millions of dollars for expensive new homes for border control agents in a former mining town rather than refurbish homes that were already there.
"It's disgraceful," said Republican Sen. John McCain during a town hall meeting in Tuscon, The Arizona Republic reports
. McCain said the $15 million that was spent can't be justified.
"People should be fired."
Customs and Border Patrol paid more than $600,000 each to build 21 homes for border agents in Ajo in southern Arizona, where similar sized homes usually cost less than $100,000 each. In addition, the CBP paid more than $2 million to buy 20 trailer homes and lease land for them.
The agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has not said how many of the homes or trailers are actually occupied or how much the border agents pay to rent them, except to say they pay "market rates."
The trailers themselves each cost about $82,000, the paper reported earlier this week
, after the cost of installing appliances, ceiling fans and other items, said local real-estate agent Linda Sharp, who obtained the information under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Sharp, who herself rents to several CBP employees, said the properties may not be rented to border control agents' families after all. Many agents, she said, lease cheaper properties near the border and live with the families elsewhere full-time so that their spouses and children have better job and educational opportunities.
"Most of them are young," Sharp said. "They want a nightlife, and there’s no life in Ajo."
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said he also plans to pursue answers, as did Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat whose district includes the town.
"I’d like to know some more details, but, boy, on its face, it looks like a lot of wasted money," Flake said. "How you can justify spending that much money on new housing is beyond me."
Homeland Security has faced a great deal of criticism already over cost oversight, after spending more than $107 billion to secure the border during the last seven years.
But CBP said it chose to build, rather than renovate existing homes, because "quality, affordable housing was not available in the area," a claim that local real-estate agents dispute.
Ajo, located just over 100 miles from Tucson and Yuma, is a region plagued with drug smuggling and illegal border crossings.
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