Trump Administration Diverts FEMA Disaster Relief Money to Keep More Migrants in Cages

In this March 27, 2019, file photo, Central American migrants wait for food in a pen erected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to process a surge of migrant families and unaccompanied minors in El Paso, Texas.
Photo: Cedar Attanasio, File (AP Photo)

The Department of Homeland Security informed Congress this week that it will reallocate $271 million from its budget, including disaster aid, to the U.S.-Mexico border to support the Trump administration’s stringent immigration policies.

DHS confirmed the transfer at the height of hurricane season in the Atlantic; as I write this, Tropical Storm Dorian continues its path toward Puerto Rico, where it is expected to make landfall sometime on Wednesday.


According to NPR, citing DHS documents it had obtained, the department said it will transfer about $155 million from FEMA’s disaster relief fund to increase the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds. Some money will also be used for temporary court facilities used for detention and deportation proceedings.

The agency took great pains to emphasize that the funding would go toward detaining single adults, and not families or children.

“Given the rise of single adults crossing the border, ICE has already had to increase the number of detention beds above what Congress funded,” DHS said a statement, published in part by NPR. “Without additional funding for single adult detention beds and transportation from the U.S. Border Patrol to ICE detention facilities, ICE will not be able to support the influx of migrants from U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehensions.”

But on this point, it’s worth noting that some of the detention camps migrant children are being held in are intended for single adults. This, along with the Trump administration’s recent announcement that it would indefinitely detain migrant families who cross the border, casts serious doubt about who will eventually lay in those beds.


Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) raised this very concern to The Root in February, when Donald Trump was holding the federal government hostage over funding for his border wall.

“The best predictor of the future is the past, and [ICE has] proven themselves to be a rogue, corrupt agency,” Pressley said, explaining why she refused to vote for additional ICE funding.


According to CNN, the new funding would up ICE’s bed count from roughly 45,000 to 50,000.

As the New York Times reports, Congressman and Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said the DHS’ timing—diverting funds at the height of hurricane season—could have deadly consequences. At the top of the month, federal weather researchers warned there may be greater hurricane activity in 2019 than in years prior. Tropical Storm Dorian, which may reach hurricane strength by the time it hits Puerto Rico, may also hit Georgia and Florida over the holiday weekend.

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?