Nearly $10 million was diverted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency into Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the Trump administration ramped up crackdowns on immigrants across the country, according to the analysis of a Democratic U.S. senator.
News of the shuffle was presented this week by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas with the federal response, coordinated by FEMA, coming over the next few weeks.
Merkley released documents on Tuesday which he say show FEMA line items allocated for "Operations and Support" with labels like "Response and Recovery" and "Preparation and Preparedness" being marked down at the same time as ICE line items labeled "Custody Operations" and "Transportation and Removal" were increased.
Merkley said on an appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday that he discovered the changes as he was looking into Trump administration practices of immigrant family separation and detention. Merkley, an outspoken critic of the president who visited border-area detention centers over the summer, was denied entry to one warehouse-style facility in a repurposed Texas Walmart and reported seeing "hundreds of children locked up in cages" at another.
The immigration crackdowns were part of Trump initiatives to make good on campaign promises to walk back Obama-era "catch-and-release" approaches to policing immigration, but have resulted in a tightening of legal immigration as well. For years, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been unable to reach an agreement to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA and ICE, called Merkley's prime time MSNBC appearance "a sorry attempt to push a false agenda," denying that relief funds were moved to support immigration enforcement.
Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts. This is a sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.
The transfers make up small portions of both the FEMA and ICE budgets, but Merkley’s findings come almost exactly one year since the administration’s botched response to Hurricane Maria after it hit Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory in the Caribbean. Some 3,000 people died during and after the storm, a figure that President Trump disputed himself on Twitter today. For months after the storm, thousands of Puerto Ricans remained without power.
Asked on CNN this week if he trusted that recovery efforts on the U.S. mainland would be dispatched effectively in response to Hurricane Florence, Merkley said, "absolutely not."
3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...