There was never a $50M federal grant for an ‘illegal alien resort’

JISHOU, HUNAN — In the aftermath of the last two days’ blog drama about the so-called “luxury resort” for immigrants in Weslaco, Texas, I decided to do some research of my own into the mysterious $50 million federal grant being bandied about on the Internet.

In other words, I’m doing what The Gateway Pundit should have done in the first place. They’re the ones who falsely spread the $50 million resort idea all over the Internet this week, effectively killing a project that was costing more like $4 million.

As near as I can tell, the $50 million federal grant exists only in the fevered imaginations of people who hate undocumented immigrants from Central America, and President Barack Obama, in no particular order.

To recap, a nonprofit agency called Baptist Child and Family Services (BCFS), which is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, planned to buy the Palm Aire Hotel and Suites in Weslaco and convert it into a 600-bed shelter for unaccompanied children crossing the Mexican border into the USA.

The 3-star hotel has been up for sale since at least January 2013, and BCFS was going to purchase it for $3.8 million. It was just before their hearing with the local county commission that Kristinn Taylor of The Gateway Pundit website blogged a fairy tale about the Obama Administration giving BCFS a $50 million grant to build a luxury resort for illegal alien kids.

He says he got the figure from a local TV report, which said that BCFS had received a $50 million federal grant for the project. In fact, they didn’t. The TV report was wrong. The figure came up in a different context, when a county commissioner said the project would inject $50 million annually into the Weslaco economy.

The fanciful Gateway Pundit resort report resulted in a frenzy of shock and outrage in the right wing echo chamber, which was so loud that BCFS dropped the project altogether, citing “misreporting” of the details.

When I and others called Taylor to task for shoddy, irresponsible reporting, his response was to insist he was right all along, and that we all owed him “major apologies” and retractions. We all replied, basically, fuck off.

Well, you know, federal grants are public record, and you can find them quite easily on the Internet. You can search for them at the Tracking Accountability in Government Grants System.

From the year 2000 BCFS has received nearly $458 million in Health and Human Services grants for a variety of projects benefiting international and immigrant youth, including health programs, children’s shelters and abstinence education.

This year, the agency got a hefty $190 million grant to open six offices across the country to help the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement deal with immigrant children.

Anti-immigration factions are now targeting BCFS, suggesting that it is wasting federal tax monies on benefiting illegal immigrants who should all be sent home. BCFS mostly focuses on immigrant children and teenagers.

Another writer at The Gateway Pundit finds fault with the $400,000 salary of BCFS CEO Kevin Dinnin, and implies that a charitable organization not pay its staff any money at all, or something. She also questioned why the organization dropped its full title (mentioning the word “Baptist”) for the shorter BCFS.

Obviously, BCFS must be up to something. Like when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC.

BCFS has received federal grants since 2000. Gee, was Obama president back then?

Here’s a yearly tabulation of the federal grants BCFS has received.

Fiscal year totals
2000 – $359,822
2001 – $1,100.220
2002 – $1,100.220
2003 – $950.400
2004 – $1,288,779
2005 – 1,050,000
2006 – $1,445,500
2007 – $1,585,500
2008 – $1,866,711
2009 – $7,777,822
2010 – $11,735,693
2011 – $18,895,827
2012 – $66,973,689
2013 – $61,338,664
2014 – $280,344,454
Total 2000-2014 – $457,903,301

As you might notice, the size of grants really took off in 2009, coincidentally when Obama took office. I don’t have any explanations for it yet, but I suspect the federal government is outsourcing a lot of immigration services to BCFS.

Unfortunately, the TAGGS site does not allow you to get details about each grant proposal by clicking each line item. However, there is no line item or items that total to $50 million.

The only source for the $50 million figure appears to be a KRGV-TV report, cited in the Gateway Pundit article. However, the TV report appears to have been in error.

Newspaper articles about the proposed project only mention $50 million as the expected benefit to the local economy.

The Brownsville Herald quoted Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar as being in favor of the project.

“I think we could use something like that in Weslaco,” Cuellar said. “Anytime that humanitarian problems happen I’m interested, especially when it involves kids.”

He added that the project, which BCFS said will employ 650 people and have an annual economic impact of some $50 million, would be a major development boon.

BCFS spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said the project would bring in 650 new jobs to Weslaco and $50 million in income each year, which

“includes nearly $16 million in salaries and benefits; $10 million filtered into the local economy for operating services such as electricity, rent, contract labor, gasoline, telephone, office supplies, cleaning supplies, advertising, rentals, groceries, and miscellaneous local vendors”—and, she added, “$2 million in immediate property improvements invested within the first 90 days.”

Source

In short, there was never a $50 million grant to buy and renovate the facility in Weslaco. As I and other writers have reported, the sensationalist article at The Gateway Pundit got it all wrong. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and no amount of post facto error correcting will now dislodge the $50 million immigrant resort meme from the right wing mental black hole. They hang on to fake stories no matter how many times rational people tell them the stories are wrong.

In the process of writing this post, I sent emails and tweets to BCFS, Commissioner Cuellar and Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, asking them for some clarifications. I am awaiting their replies, and will report back if they tell me anything different from what I’ve written here.

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