Trump Transfers FEMA Disaster Funds to Immigration Enforcement

The Trump administration will shift $155 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief fund to the president’s immigration enforcement agency.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to reprogram and transfer a total of $271 million to the administration’s immigration enforcement efforts. On July 26, the department announced to Congress its plans to reprogram and shuffle funds from different agencies — including FEMA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a DHS official told CNN.

The unidentified official said about $116 million from other agencies would be transferred to fund ICE detention beds, transportation, and deportation. Earlier in August, the Trump administration announced it would ignore a settlement that put a 20-day limit on family detention and instead hold migrant families in detention indefinitely.

The $116 million will finance the extended detention bills. DHS said it would take funds from Customs and Border Protection’s operations budget, the Coast Guard’s infrastructure projects and research, TSA’s employee training and supplies, a cybersecurity initiative, and an effort to counter weapons of mass destruction, according to CBS News.

DHS also plans to divert $155 million from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to construct temporary facilities at the border to processing asylum seekers and to hold court hearings for its “Remain in Mexico” program. The program returns asylum seekers to Mexico and allows temporary reentry into the US for court hearings.

More than 37,000 migrants have been placed in this Migrant Protection Protocols program. According to CBS News, migrants returned to Mexico from California and El Paso are scheduled for court hearings in San Diego and El Paso. However, there are no nearby immigration courts for migrants sent to Mexico from the sites in Brownsville and Laredo in Texas.

To solve this issue, the Trump administration hopes to build “soft-sided facilities” at the Brownsville and Laredo areas./

The announcement was revealed to the public in a letter sent to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

“It is of great concern that during the course of this administration, there has been a growing disconnect between the will of Congress, as represented by ICE funding levels in enacted appropriations bills signed by the President, and the Department’s immigration enforcement operations, which often lack justification,” Roybal-Allard wrote.

The California Democrat said the proposal would allow ICE to detain more migrants and fund additional removal operations. Roybal-Allard claimed DHS was trying to bypass limits for detention beds that Congress negotiated through funding bills.

A recent spending bill allowed for an average of 45,274 detention beds per day, with the understanding that it would go down to 40,520 by the end of the fiscal year. By reprogramming funds from other agencies, DHS will be able to fund approximately 50,000 beds, just short of the 52,000 detention beds originally requested by the Trump administration during the budget negotiations.

According to ICE, however, the agency was still holding 55,530 people in immigration detention as of August 10.

Roybal-Allard also argued that using DHS funds to support immigration courts would violate federal law because they fall under the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a branch of the Justice Department funded through specific congressional allocations. She said federal law “prohibits the obligation of funds from one appropriation account for a purpose if Congress has appropriated funds for that purpose through another account.”

In a statement, FEMA claimed it will have sufficient funds to support operational needs after DHS makes the transfer to ICE.

“This transfer of funds to support the border emergency will leave a remaining balance of $447 million in the DRF (Disaster Relief Fund) Base account,” the statement said. “Based on DHS and FEMA’s review of historical emergency spending from the DRF Base account, this amount will be sufficient to support operational needs and will not impact ongoing long-term recovery efforts across the country.”

The statement continued, “The DRF Majors account, which provides funding for ongoing recovery efforts, including those supporting communities impacted by the 2017 disasters, has a current balance of approximately $27 billion and is not impacted by the reprogramming.”

The announcement comes just as Hurricane Dorian makes its way toward Florida. The storm, now a Category 4 hurricane, is expected to impact the U.S southeast coast as early as Sunday evening.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.