According to documents released yesterday (September 11), the Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) just before the start of hurricane season.
In an appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show" as Hurricane Florence zeroed in on the mid-Atlantic coast, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) released a 39-page document from the Department of Homeland Security.
The document shows that the administration took the money from FEMA to reinforce ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations unit, which is responsible for detaining and deporting immigrants of undocumented status.
"As #HurricaneFlorence bears down, I discovered today that the Trump Administration is taking money away from @FEMA so that they can pay to put more asylum seekers in detention centers," Merkley said via Twitter Tuesday night.
The DHS document requests that funds for FEMA’s Response and Recovery efforts be transferred to ICE. Without the funneling of FEMA money, the document says, "ICE will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirements in FY 2018. Insufficient funding could require ICE to release any new book-ins and illegal border violators. ICE will not be able to deport those who have violated immigration laws."
"This is a scandal," said Merkley.
In a press statement, the Oregon Democrat added: "At the start of hurricane season—when American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still suffering from FEMA’s inadequate recovery efforts—the administration transferred millions of dollars away from FEMA. And for what? To implement their profoundly misguided ‘zero-tolerance’ policy."
In a series of tweets, Tyler Q. Houlton, a DHS spokesperson, did not contest the legitimacy of the DHS document, but he said that no FEMA money was diverted from disaster relief funds.
"Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts," said Houlton. "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."
This news comes as President Donald Trump claims his adminstration’s handling of disaster relief during last year’s deadly hurricane season was an "incredible unsung success." Meanwhile, Hurricane Florence is charging toward North and South Carolina, with some 750,000 homes in its path.