WASHINGTON — Documents released Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, appear to show that the Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the summer, as the 2018 hurricane season was getting underway, according to multiple reports.
The funding shift was documented in a 39-page budget document released Tuesday to several news outlets. The document showed that $9.8 million earmarked for FEMA was redirected, in part to support “adult detention beds and transportation removal programs” under ICE.
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"This is a scandal," Merkley said in a statement released to The Washington Post. "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."
The Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy spurred debate and public outrage over the summer after it was used to justify migrant family separations on the U.S.-Mexico border. President Donald Trump ended migrant family separations with an executive order signed in June.
The documents released Tuesday show the $10 million transfer to ICE comprised about 1 percent of FEMA’s $1 billion budget. The money did not come from funds earmarked for relief efforts, according to Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.
“Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts,” Houlton wrote on Twitter after the documents were released. “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.”
He argued that the funds could not have been spent on hurricane response efforts because of appropriation limits.
Former FEMA and DHS officials told the Post, however, that the distinction between "hurricane response" and other efforts was irrelevant because the money goes toward the agency's storm preparedness efforts.
"Anyone who knows FEMA knows it's parsing words," Moira Whelan, a former chief of staff in the Office of Gulf Coast Rebuilding at Homeland Security's National Joint Information Center, told The Post.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
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