Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight MORE (D-Ore.) on Tuesday night released documents appearing to show the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) diverted nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The documents, first reported by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, detail the agency's funding redirections for fiscal 2018 and show that millions of dollars were diverted to ICE from several agencies.
Those diverted funds, totaling $33.1 million, "will provide funding in support of higher priority detention and removal requirements than those for which originally appropriated," according to the documents.
According to MSNBC, Merkley believes the transfer from FEMA to ICE was made this summer. He told Maddow that "it means that just as hurricane season is starting ... the administration is working hard to find funds for child detention camps."
"So $10 million dollars comes out of FEMA when we're facing hurricane season, knowing what happened last year, and look what's happened since," Merkley said, referring to a recent hurricane in the Pacific that largely missed Hawaii and another, Florence, currently threatening the Carolinas and Virginia.
"I find it extraordinary," he added. "It says that money came from response and recovery, right on it."
A spokesman for DHS, Tyler Houlton, argued on Twitter that the funds could not have been used for this year's hurricane preparations due to "appropriation limitations," while declining to explain further.
"Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts. This is 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 wrote.
"The money in question — transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses — could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations. DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs," he added.
The money in question — transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses — could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations. DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs.— Tyler Q. Houlton (@SpoxDHS) September 12, 2018
Merkley fired back, however, responding to another DHS spokesperson who contested the accuracy of the senator's claim.
"[A]lternative facts strike again. This quote is entirely fabricated to try to distract from the fact that they chose to transfer millions away from FEMA, during hurricane season, so they could spend more money locking up immigrant men, women, and children," the senator wrote.
The Trump administration faced widespread criticism earlier this year for forced separations and detentions of families caused by the administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
News of diverted funds from FEMA also follows a revision of Puerto Rico's official death total from two hurricanes last year from just a few dozen to more than 1,400.