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

Chris Kleponis  ZUMA Press  Newscom

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly asked for an additional $1 billion in order to help the agency meet deportation requirements under the Trump administration, according to a budget document obtained by The Washington Post. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced on the show that almost $10 million was moved from FEMA's budget to ICE.

The Department of Homeland Security transferred almost $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a budget document released by a Democratic senator late Tuesday night, diverting funds from the relief agency at the start of the hurricane season that began in June.

The department has the authority to move funds around internally with the approval of Congress and transfers are not unusual.

"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", he added.

'It's tremendously big and tremendously wet, ' Trump said during a briefing in the Oval Office by FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

While it's not uncommon for agencies to move money around, FEMA's budget was decimated a year ago 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.

Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, bashed Merkley's claims as "a sorry attempt to push a false agenda". Future requests should include "transparent and publically-available evidence" that the money is required because of "circumstances. that are truly beyond ICE's control", the senators said.

The transfer and reprogramming request shows that money has been pulled from the Coast Guard, from TSA aviation security, from other parts of ICE, actually, as well as from FEMA.

The transfer was approved by the Republican chairs of the House and Senate Homeland Security appropriations subcommittees, but not by the rest of the subcommittees' members.

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He added that he hoped FEMA and the Trump administration learned from the response past year to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) highlighted the transfer of funds during a Tuesday night interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

Merkley says the money was for an expansion including "more detention centers". He also used the occasion to trumpet as an "incredible, unsung success" his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which caused almost 3,000 deaths on Puerto Rico, a US territory already badly damaged by Hurricane Irma weeks earlier.

Other Democratic lawmakers called the reallocation "shameful".

Merkley has been a vocal critic of the administration's immigration policies.

After the devastation of last year's storms - the triple wallop of Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma - FEMA should have the funds it needs to be prepared for another disastrous hurricane season. FEMA spokeswoman Jenny Burke said on Twitter that she tried to explain the nuance of the document to Merkley's staff before he went on air but they were told: "It's a TV hit, you take it where you can".

CNN received a copy of the document from Merkley's office. "It's not surprising to see a defensive and completely fallacious response from the Trump administration to their irresponsible and unsafe decision to move money from FEMA", said Martina McLennan, a spokeswoman.

"There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence: Storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland and damaging hurricane-force winds", warned the National Hurricane Service in the beginning of this week.

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