The Trump administration took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget this summer to help boost U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to budget documents shared with USA TODAY.
The revelation, just ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected landfall in North and South Carolina, was found by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who first shared the documents live on MSNBC late Tuesday.
He told USA TODAY that after the devastation of last year’s storms, including hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma, FEMA should have the funds it needs to be prepared for another disastrous hurricane season.
“It’s almost guaranteed to happen again, so this is just incredibly irresponsible,” Merkley said.
The budgeting document, titled “Department of Homeland Security FY 2018 transfer and reprogramming notifications,” lists $9,755,303 taken from FEMA’s budget, about .9 percent of the agency’s listed overall budget, and given to support ICE.
Money was also taken from other agencies, including millions from the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, to help ICE, the document states.
The document lists the additional money was taken to help ICE detain immigrants along the southern border, fund beds in detention centers and remove undocumented immigrants from the country.
“ICE must have sufficient detention bed capacity to detain illegal aliens when necessary as it enforces the Nation’s immigration laws as fairly and effectively as possible,” the budget document states. “Ensuring adequate funding for the detention beds requires projecting an Average Daily Population (ADP) for adult detainees as well as the daily costs incurred in keeping a detainee in custody.”
The nearly $10 million was taken from various places within FEMA, including training, preparedness and protection, and response and recovery operations.
Tylet Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees both agencies, dismissed criticism of the document as a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda” and said none of the money transferred came from disaster relief funding.
“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,” he said in a tweet. “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.”
While it’s not uncommon for agencies to move money around, FEMA’s budget was decimated last year due to the barrage of storms and fires that affected the nation and the agency was criticized heavily for its handling of the disaster in Puerto Rico.
Merkely said he was made aware of FEMA’s budget cuts while looking into a solution for family separation and the detention centers set up along the border. He said the document makes it clear ICE is using money from FEMA “to build more detention centers.”
Merkely said he believes the budgeting reallocation happened in response to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which was rolled out earlier this year.
The policy led to thousands of families being separated and housed in detention centers, which he says may have increased the need for more money in ICE’s budget.
Both FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests from USA TODAY.