Trump Admin. Moved Millions in FEMA Funds to ICE Removal Operations

DHS confirmed the transfer of money but said the funds did not come from FEMA's "disaster response and recovery efforts"

As Hurricane Florence threatened the U.S. East Coast with devastating storm surge and damaging winds, documents made public Tuesday showed that the Trump administration had recently moved nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the agency tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants.

The funds are detailed in a Transfer and Reprogramming Notifications report from the Department of Homeland Security dated Aug. 31. The documents show about $9.8 million dollars being removed from FEMA’s 2018 fiscal year budget and given to DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement for “enforcement and removal operations.” The documents said the money would support the agency’s “detention beds” and “transportation and removal program.” 

The U.S. Secret Service was also listed as a recipient of the reallocated funds for “protection of persons and facilities," and other agencies had money moved as well.

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) provided the report to MSNBC's “The Rachel Maddow Show” Tuesday night. Merkley, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the reallocation happened this summer. 

DHS confirmed to “The Rachel Maddow Show” that the transfers were made, and a department spokesperson claimed “the money did not come from any of our disaster response and recovery efforts.”  DHS said the account supports FEMA headquarters operational expenses and cannot be used for disaster response. It came in under budget for expenses including travel, training and office supplies and money was moved.

However, the documents show that millions of dollars were removed from FEMA’s budget for “Response and Recovery.” 

Transferring money between agencies is not out of the ordinary and within the authority for the administration. According to Sen. Patrick Leahy's office, Homeland Security notified Congress on June 30 that it would transfer $200 million from other agencies to ICE, including the funds from FEMA. Leahy, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the transfer was approved by the subcommittee chairs and no Democrats signed off on it, the Associated Press reported.

But it is unusual, Merkley said, to see millions of dollars being taken from FEMA at the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November.

“I find it extraordinary,” Merkley told Maddow.

DHS spokesperson Tyler Houlton further defended the department's actions on Twitter Wednesday, writing, "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. ... DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs."

Hurricane Florence was on a path Wednesday morning to slam into the United States. It was expected to blow ashore early Saturday and dump torrential rain onto the Carolinas. 

"This storm is going to knock out power days into weeks. It's going to destroy infrastructure. It's going to destroy homes," said Jeff Byard of FEMA.

Byard added that the agency has all the resources it needs to react to the natural disaster.

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