Documents show $10M moved from FEMA to ICE

Department of Homeland Security

Department of Homeland Security

Top officials at FEMA are insisting the transfer of almost $10 million of its budget to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) services will not affect the agency's disaster relief efforts.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of OR said the administration was taking money from FEMA's "response and recovery" to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at a time when Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the Southeast U.S. coast.

Moira Whelan, a former DHS official, told The Washington Post that Houlton was "parsing words", because money outside the Disaster Relief Fund is still used to prepare for disasters and improve the response to them.

Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, alleged that money earmarked for disaster relief and emergency response efforts had been taken out of FEMA's accounts and shifted to ICE.

"The budget documents show that there is a lot of tough questions that need to be asked about what the true priorities are of this administration", said Peter Tyler, a senior policy analyst for the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.

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The document does confirm that the money would be spent on ICE's detention facilities.

"It means just as hurricane season is starting, and it usually starts June 1, the administration is working hard to find funds for additional detention camps and it's all part of the child separation 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", he continued.

News of the budget transfer comes several weeks after FEMA acknowledged staffing shortages and logistical challenges in responding to Hurricane Maria past year in Puerto Rico, where aging infrastructure and island terrain complicated relief efforts.

The feud between Merkley and FEMA and DHS has only escalated since he appeared on MSNBC'S "The Rachel Maddow Show" Tuesday night and CNN Wednesday morning. And that's not counting the disaster relief budget at all, which has $25 billion in it, DHS says. An estimated almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans died in the wake of Hurricane Maria previous year and many - including the San Juan mayor - have been critical of what they call a lackluster and underwhelming response to the devastation.

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The precise timing of the reallocation is unclear, as the document, which refers to Fiscal Year 2018, does not include an exact date.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long Tuesday urged people in the path of Hurricane Florence to heed warnings and evacuate away from the powerful storm, including in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is not yet under a mandatory evacuation order, even though the city is listed as a potential landfall spot.

The department then must notify the chairs of the relevant congressional appropriations subcommittees, who must approve. "We'll get an answer to that question", he said.

The "response and recovery" category contains about 21 percent of FEMA's operations budget- about $223 million - does non-public a more instruct characteristic in paying for catastrophe efforts.

But while FEMA officials issued dire warnings about the days ahead, President Donald Trump insisted-despite what Merkley's documents show-that the White House is "sparing no expense" and is "totally prepared" for the storm. The Category 4 storm is expected to make landfall in North Carolina Thursday and may be the costliest hurricane in USA history.

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After months without power or clean water and an official death count of almost 3,000 dead.

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