The Slatest

Trump Administration Redirected $10 Million From FEMA to ICE at Start of Hurricane Season

Donald Trump sits at his desk in the Oval Office while FEMA Administrator Brock Long stands and points to a map of Hurricane Florence's path, next to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to a map of Hurricane Florence’s path after briefing Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at the White House on Sept. 11.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

A budget document made public by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley on Tuesday shows the Trump Administration redirected nearly $10 million in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the time the agency expanded its arrests and detention numbers under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separations of hundreds of families.

That $10 million, a tiny fraction of FEMA’s multibillion-dollar budget, was requested from areas such as “preparedness and protection” and “response and recovery” to help with ICE expenses related to housing and transportation of immigrants detained by ICE. In the document, which was prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and sent to Congress over the summer, the agency argued that without the transferred funds, ICE “will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirements in FY 2018,” creating what it called a public danger by forcing them to release undocumented immigrants in their custody and limiting the agency’s ability to make “criminal alien and fugitive arrests.”

Some, including DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton, contended that the absence of that particular $10 million would not damage any relief efforts. The document noted that the funding taken from FEMA would affect training, travel, public engagement, and IT support, along with other basic routine operating expenses.

But the news, made public as the potentially catastrophic Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas and as Trump pledged that his administration was “sparing no expense” in preparation, evoked outrage in others, particularly among those who believe that proper funding for even routine expenses at FEMA is necessary to support the agency’s work in the aftermath of Florence and to prepare for the possibility of any future natural disasters. The Washington Post reported that former FEMA officials called the funds necessary to the agency’s mission, regardless of whether they were dedicated specifically to disaster relief.

Merkley, who found the document while seeking ways to combat the child separations, called it a “scandal,” linking it to the financial pressures of family detentions at the border and pointing out that it was drafted at the start of the hurricane season. “And for what?” he said. “To implement their profoundly misguided ‘zero tolerance’ policy.”

On Tuesday, Trump also angered critics by bragging that his administration’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year was “an incredible, unsung success.” According to updated estimates from the territory’s government, the hurricane caused nearly 3,000 deaths on the island.