As the Carolinas prepare for "tremendously big and tremendously wet" Hurricane Florence to hit their coast on Friday, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley revealed on last night's Rachel Maddow Show that the Trump Administration diverted almost $10 million from FEMA to ICE earlier this summer.
The Trump Administration has already declared open season on FEMA, making catastrophic cutbacks to the disaster relief organization not seen since Ronald Reagan. He has left key positions unstaffed, rescinded Obama's Executive Orders mandating that the organization be updated on climate science, and rolled back regulations that could make it harder to identify toxic sludge from factories.
But FEMA, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, has no funding following this October 1st because it is caught up in the battle over Trump's wall. Trump and the GOP have repeatedly threatened government shutdowns if they don't get funding for the wall, so annual spending resolutions have had to suffice to keep the department going. Congress has not yet passed one that would keep it open beyond the 1st.
The $9.8 million that the Trump Administration took from FEMA may be less than 1% of its projected $1.03 billion annual budget, but it will go towards building ICE detention centers as part of its "zero tolerance" policy. While it has not yet been established exactly when this transfer of funds took place, Merkley estimates that it occurred on or around May 7th, the day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the "zero tolerance" policy at a speech in San Diego. "If you are smuggling a child," he said, "then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law." The detention camps proposed would be the next step in this policy.
"They are family internment camps," Merkley explained. "They are going from one strategy of inflicting trauma on children to another…all to send, as Jeff Sessions says, a message of deterrence to discourage people fleeing persecution to ever consider arriving on the shores of the United States of America.”
Senator Merkley and his office have vouched for the documents' authenticity, which The Rachel Maddow Show confirmed as well in a call from DHS shortly before airtime. However, DHS told them that the transfers did not come out of FEMA's funds for "disaster and recovery response efforts," which Merkley took issue with since the document explicitly says that they did. The money was diverted from funds for response and recovery preparedness, protection, mitigation, and mission support, among others. Now it will fund a policy the likes of which have not been seen in this country since the Japanese internment camps of WWII.
Over 400 immigrant children are still separated from their families as of this writing, and Hurricane Florence looks to be the most deadly to hit the Carolinas in more than 30 years, with the National Hurricane Service warning residents that it will have "life-threatening impacts." Trump's disastrous response to Puerto Rico's Hurricane Maria was part of the xenophobia towards Latinos that got him elected; the irony here is that to keep that xenophobia going, he has diverted funds that might have helped people who actually voted for him in the 2016 election.