Did Trump administration transfer millions from FEMA to fund ICE detention and deportation programs?

The news broke as Florence, a Category 4 hurricane, surges toward the East Coast with potentially dire consequences

By Shira Tarlo
September 12, 2018 3:29PM (UTC)
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Rachel Maddow (MSNBC)

Rachel Maddow reported Tuesday night that President Donald Trump's administration requested to transfer nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in order to fund the department's detention and deportation programs for undocumented migrants, according to documents provided to the MSNBC host by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The news broke as Hurricane Florence, a powerful Category 4 storm, surges toward the East Coast and could have dire consequences, particularly in the Carolinas.


The revelation is extraordinary given the extreme devastation in the chaos of last year's hurricane season and its aftermath, which resulted in excess deaths, an outbreak of leptospirosis and one million Americans without drinking water. A recent report revealed that nearly 3,000 died in Puerto Rico in the six months following Hurricane Maria in 2017 —  a far cry from the government's original official death toll of 64.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump sparked backlash after he called the federal response in Puerto Rico an "unsung success" of his administration.

"I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success," Trump said in a meeting to discuss emergency preparations for Hurricane Florence. "I think it was one of the best jobs that has ever been done in respect to what this is all about."


The Department of Homeland Security, which houses both FEMA and ICE, confirmed the authenticity of the documents to Maddow, although it said the movement of funds ahead of hurricane season had not come from emergency response budgets. 

However, Merkley disputed this statement, citing lines in the documents that appear to clearly state the Cabinet-level department had transferred money from "response and recovery" to expand immigrant detention. "If $10 million comes out of FEMA knowing what we had last year . . . I find it extraordinary," he said.

In a recent interview with Salon, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, (D-Ill.), claimed that racism was a big part of Trump's botched response to Hurricane Maria.


"Donald Trump never sees value in Muslims, never sees value in the transgender community, never sees value in people of color," Gutiérrez told Salon's Matthew Rozsa.

"He has never seen value in people of color," Gutiérrez explained about Trump. "He has never seen value in the diversity of this nation. He only sees value in the base of people that elected him president of the United States. And guess what? Puerto Ricans weren't part of that base of people."


"Here's Donald Trump's words, right? 'They expect us to do everything for them.' I'm paraphrasing, but he said that," Gutiérrez continued. "The problem in Puerto Rico is that they want the government to do everything for them. In other words, we're lazy. And secondly, he said, 'Oh, Puerto Rico is just busting the budget.' That's another way of saying we're not worth it. You have to put it in the context of what the president said: We cost too much, and we want everybody to do everything for us. Those are just lies."

"You have a president who goes to the island of Puerto Rico and gives himself a 10 while we know thousands of people were dying," Gutiérrez said. "I'm not saying that when he got there thousands of people had died, but the lack of action would cause thousands of deaths. We know from the studies at two major universities that many more people died as a consequence of the insufficient response after the hurricane than from the hurricane itself."

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Shira Tarlo

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