The Trump administration has been accused of transferring roughly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) earlier this year to pay for its ambitious migrant detention and deportation strategy, a document released Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley [D-Ore] said.
Sen. Merkley leaked the documents to MSNBC's Rachael Maddow, which accuses the administration of diverting over $2.3 million of $9.8 million of FEMA's "response and recovery" funds, as well as preparedness and protection, regional operations, mitigation efforts, and mission support budgets.
It also stated that the transfer, less than 1 percent of FEMA's budget, would compromise the agency's "mission impact" as FEMA would need to "curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance, and IT investments."
Although DHS can move limited amounts of money within its budget, Congress has limited DHS fund "reprogramming", a process of shifting funds from one program to another, to $5 million or less.
The lawmaker said that the Department of Homeland Security requested the money "just as hurricane season [was] starting" in order to boost funds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its "zero tolerance" immigration stance.
The document went public just days before Category-4 Hurricane Florence is set to arrive off the Carolina coastline. Sen. Merkley lambasted Trump for his misappropriation of public funds on social media Tuesday evening. "Unbelievable? Yes. Reprehensible? Yes. But it's true. Look for yourself," he tweeted.
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) September 12, 2018
"This is a scandal. 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," Merkley told the Huffington Post.
"And for what? To implement their profoundly misguided ‘zero tolerance' policy. It wasn't enough to rip thousands of children out of the arms of their parents — the administration chose to partly pay for this horrific program by taking away from the ability to respond to damage from this year's upcoming and potentially devastating hurricane season."
"$10 million comes out of FEMA when we're facing a hurricane season knowing what's happened last year," Merkley told Maddow. "And look what we've had since, a hurricane just barely [missed] Hawaii…. Now we have this hurricane, Florence, bearing down on the Carolinas."
However, some have hit back at Sen. Merkley, with DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton calling his show appearance a "sorry attempt to push a false agenda," adding that the Trump administration has been focusing "on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster."
"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," Houlton tweeted Tuesday. "DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs."
— Tyler Q. Houlton (@SpoxDHS) September 12, 2018
The money represented savings from "operational account" expenses used for “raining, basic purchase cards, office supplies, HQ overhead support," another DHS official told the Daily Caller. “This was money that was in savings and was going to expire at the end of this fiscal year on September 30th.”
The DHS has come under fire in for other malpractices, most recently for scrapping the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which states that authorities can only detain migrant children for up to 20 days. Trump signed an executive order in June so that his administration could detain children for longer periods. The move sparked publish backlash from the international community after viral videos and images of imprisoned children surfaced online.
The following article was edited to reflect updates in the story