Document shows ICE got almost $10 million from FEMA, senator says

Chris Kleponis  ZUMA Press  Newscom

Jeff Merkley says the Trump administration shifted almost $10 million from the federal disaster budget - just as the hurricane season is starting - to pay for expanded immigrant detention facilities.

But FEMA, while not disputing the transfer, says the money came from the agency's "routine operating expenses" and not from disaster relief funds. That funding can not be spent on disaster response, they said.

The agency that spearheads the federal response to natural disasters is down almost $10 million out of its $15 billion budget.

Merkley's office provided a Homeland Security transfer and reprogramming notification document that showed the money was transferred.

The $10 million from FEMA did not come from the agency's disaster relief budget, the agencies noted. Meanwhile, a year after Hurricane Harvey brought the worst rainstorm in the nation's history to the Houston area, 50 percent of lower-income respondents in a survey conducted this summer said they weren't getting the help they needed.

Recent statistics show the administration is on track this year to deport substantially more than the 226,000 immigrants deported in 2017, though final numbers won't be available for several weeks.

The top Democratic senator on the Appropriations Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, blasted the transfer of funds Wednesday, saying "our eastern coast is left even more vulnerable" as a result.

The department acknowledged that funds had been redirected but said the transfer did not jeopardize relief efforts.

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Small's organization provided Merkley with the DHS document.

"This is a scandal", Merkley, said in a statement Wednesday.

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. "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.

House lawmakers were told about the decision to make the payment in late July.

This news of course comes as Hurricane Florence heads toward the Southeast.

Merkley calls the transfer "reprehensible", and immigration advocates say it highlights an alarming shift in priorities, but the White House is adamant that the redistribution of funds will have no harmful effect on the response to Hurricane Florence.

"This comment from FEMA's spokesperson is as factual as the president's assertion that Administration's response to Hurricane Maria was "incredibly successful" and 'one of the best jobs that's ever been done, ' " Zaccaro said via email.

"As an overall, the meeting was long on excuses and on misrepresentations and short on information and solutions. one thing we do know, they are taking 1% of every DHS department and putting that towards family detention and family separation", Gallego said.

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