Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley says the Trump administration shifted nearly $10 million from the federal disaster budget — just as the hurricane season is starting — to pay for expanded immigrant detention facilities.
“It wasn’t enough to rip thousands of children out of the arms of their parents,” Merkley said in a statement Tuesday night. “The administration chose to partly pay for this horrific program by taking away the ability to respond to damage from this year’s upcoming and potentially devastating hurricane season.”
Merkley first disclosed on MSNBC’s "Rachel Maddow Show" that he had obtained budget documents showing the transfers out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and into the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The documents showed that the Department of Homeland Security had altogether shifted more than $200 million from other accounts into immigration enforcement, according to The New York Times.
Tyler Q. Houlton, a homeland security spokesman, said on Twitter that Merkley’s revelation was a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”
Houlton said the $10 million was taken from FEMA’s “routine operating accounts” and was money that could not be used for disaster relief.
However, the documents say the shifts come out of FEMA accounts that include such categories as “Response and Recovery” and “Mission Support."
“I would dispute the statement that this has no bearing on addressing the challenges from hurricanes,” Merkley told Maddow.
The Oregon senator, who is considering a race for president in 2020, has been a high-profile critic of President Trump’s immigration policies. He made headlines in June when he tried to visit a children’s detention facility in Texas but was turned away.