"Sparing no expense."​


The Trump administration may have withheld almost $10 million in natural disaster relief funding in order to pay for the "zero-tolerance" immigration policy, which has led to the separation of families at the US-Mexico border and to the mass incarceration of migrant children.


Budget documents shared Tuesday by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley with MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" trace $9.8 million that had been originally allocated for the Federal Emergency Management Agency but have instead been appropriated by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to the documents, funds meant to support FEMA programs like "Preparedness and Protection" and "Response and Recovery" were reallocated to ICE by the Homeland Security Department, which covers both agencies, in order to pay for needs arising from the mass detention of immigrations, including "Detention Beds" and "Transportation and Removal Program." 


Merkley's revelation comes as the Carolinas brace for hurricane Florence to make landfall this week. The storm is expected to hit with devastating impact as a category 4, potentially ​leaving millions without power. More than a million local residents have already fled the East Coast.


Diverting the funds seems particularly callous after President Donald Trump ​assertion earlier on Tuesday that the government is "sparing no expense" in preparation for Florence (which Trump described as "tremendously big and tremendously wet").

Talking to reporters in the oval office, he also ​praised his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which ​ravaged Puerto Rico last year and ​caused over 2,900 deaths, as "an incredible, unsung success."


But a federal report ​published last week tells a different story. Overwhelmed and underfunded, FEMA was unprepared to contain destruction at the scope wreaked by Maria, according to the report. FEMA responders arriving at Puerto Rico were already exhausted by their activities in managing other disasters across the country, and more than half of them lacked relevant training.


Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy responded to Trump's bluster with alarm, urging residents in Florence's path not to rely on government support.

After making the 39-page budget memorandum public, Merkley ​issued a statement to The Washington Post condemning the Trump administration's priorities:


“This is a scandal. At the start of hurricane season — when American citizens in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are still suffering from FEMA’s inadequate recovery efforts — the administration transferred millions of dollars away from FEMA. And for what? To implement their profoundly misguided ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.”


DHS spokesperson Tyler Houlton delicately explained in a series of tweets that the almost-$10 million diverted to ICE were grabbed from "FEMA's routine operating expenses" and was never meant to go to "hurricane response." 

But former FEMA officials told The Post that Houlton was misleadingly splitting hairs, and explained that the agency relies on its reserves to in anticipation of the unpredictable (which tends to play a big role when it comes to massive scale natural disasters).


Adaam James is a senior editor at Pluralist.

You can argue with him on Twitter.