DOJ sues New York over FEMA claims related to Sandy
DHS: Transferring FEMA funds to detention centers didn't hurt hurricane relief
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is pushing back after a Democratic senator accused the agency of transferring money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) budget ahead of hurricane season to upgrade detention facilities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In a statement, DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said documents obtained by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which show nearly $10 million being transferred from FEMA's fiscal 2018 budget to ICE, are part of a "sorry attempt to push a false agenda" about DHS operations.
The money, he added, could not have been used by FEMA to prepare for upcoming storms, such as Category 4 Hurricane Florence which is currently bearing down on the east coast.
"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 on Twitter.
"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.
Another DHS spokeswoman, Jenny Burke, claimed in her own tweet that Merkley's office rebuffed the agency's efforts to clarify.
"After calling @SenJeffMerkley staff to inform them of the facts surrounding @FEMA budget we were told 'It's a TV hit, you take it where you can' - regardless of the facts?" she tweeted.
Merkley responded to Burke's tweet, which he said was "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."
Merkley told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Tuesday that the documents showed that FEMA had transferred at least part of the funds from its budget for "response and recovery."
"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," he said Tuesday night.
The Trump administration faced criticism last year over its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The island's official death toll was eventually updated to more than 3,000.
Trump though has touted his effort there as an "underappreciated great job."
Florence is expected to make landfall on Saturday along the East Coast.