Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley has released a document showing that the Department of Homeland Security has diverted nearly $10 million from FEMA’s budget to ICE as hurricane season begins, CNN reports.
The document was first reported on the Rachel Maddow Show and Merkley claims the Trump administration is taking money from “response and recovery” and instead is “”working hard to find funds for additional detention camps.” DHS does not dispute the accuracy of the document but denies Merkley’s charge that response and recovery will be impacted.
However, the document from the Department of Homeland Security specifically mentions the money would come from the agency’s budgets for travel, training, public engagement and information technology work. The department denies that the money came from disaster relief funding.CNN
The document, obtained by CNN from Merkley’s office, shows that the transfer of monies, about $9.755 million, is less than 1% of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s $1.03 billion budget. It details how the transfer will affect the agency and where the money will come from. FEMA officials deny the transfer comes from disaster relief funding.
“FEMA will curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance, and IT investments in the legacy grants systems for transition to the Grants Management Modernization Program,” the document reads.CNN
Senator Merkley, a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s family separation border policy, is skeptical that the funding transfer will have no impact on disaster relief.
Tyler Houlten, press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, refuted the suggestion that the administration was putting lives in jeopardy.
Houlton continued, “The money in question — transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses — could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations. DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs.”
While the $9.755 million transfer is a small portion of the FEMA budget, it is part of a larger transfer of funding across DHS agencies. In addition to FEMA, nine other DHS agencies, are diverting 1% of their budgets to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities. In total, $201.88 million will be shifted from DHS to ICE.
The document shared by Merkley explains the rational behind the funding shift.
Insufficient funding could require ICE to “release any new book-ins and illegal border violators,” and prevent ICE from deporting those who have violated immigration laws, the document reads. FEMA and nine other agencies under the Department of Homeland Security had approximately 1% taken from their budgets to be put toward ICE’s detention facilities.
“ICE could also be forced to reduce its current interior enforcement operations, curtailing criminal alien and fugitive arrests — which would pose a significant risk to public safety and national security,” the document reads.CNN
Representative Ruben Gallego, Arizona, told CNN that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met on July 25 with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson and were informed of the DHS department’s diverting portions of their budgets to help fund detention centers.
“As an overall, the meeting was long on excuses and on misrepresentations and short on information and solutions … one thing we do know, they are taking 1% of every DHS department and putting that towards family detention and family separation,” Gallego said.CNN
Senator Merkley told Maddow that the administration has the authority to transfer funds, so this reallocation of funds is legal. The administration must inform Congress of transfers more than $5 million, which this document does.
Why It Matters
After President Trump’s inexplicable labeling of the Hurricane Maria, which resulted in numerous deaths and which Puerto Rico has barely began to recover from, as an “incredible, unsung success” and as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, attention is focused on the emotionally charged government response of natural disasters.
The GOP is facing a daunting midterm challenge – it is not out of the realm of possibility they lose the House and the Senate. Donald Trump’s approval ratings hover around 40% and there is no end of bad news for his administration – from Michael Cohen pleading guilty and implicating the president to the ongoing outrage over family separations at the border to Bob Woodward’s new book that paints the president as an idiot to the Op Ed in the New York Times that claims people in his administration are actively thwarting his worst impulses.
Even in an ordinary administration, the diverting of funds away from FEMA during hurricane season would raise eyebrows. This is no ordinary administration and the diversion of funds to ICE detention centers will draw attention at the worst possible time to a policy that has already received fierce criticism.