Things That Matter

Trump Administration Transferred Nearly $10 Million From FEMA To ICE For Detention Programs

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The Trump administration took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) budget this summer to help the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a budget report released last week. The document sent to Congress and released by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, shows that FEMA cut funding on training, IT security and infrastructure investments. It also reveals that FEMA’s operations and support budget was transferred into accounts at ICE to pay for detention and removal operations as well as border fencing and technology.

A 39-page budget document shows that the Department of Homeland Security requested about $9.8 million be transferred from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Senator Merkley, appearing on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” said the Trump administration was taking money from FEMA’s “response and recovery” and “working hard to find funds for additional detention camps.”

Merkely said he was made aware of FEMA’s budget cuts while looking into a solution for family separation and the detention centers set up along the border. He said the document makes it clear ICE is using money from FEMA “to build more detention centers.” Merkely believes the budgeting reallocation happened in response to the administration’s zero-tolerance policy. The policy has led to thousands of families being separated and housed in detention centers, which he says may have increased the need for more money in ICE’s budget.

While the money transfer from FEMA to ICE is less than 1 percent of FEMA’s overall budget, the document does confirm that the money would be spent on ICE’s detention facilities.

The DHS, which includes both FEMA and ICE, told Congress that ICE needed $200 million to cover the costs of detaining and deporting more migrants than the agency expected. To cover the deficit, DHS “reprogrammed” its financial resources, which is allowed under budget rules. Because of the loss of the $9.75 million, FEMA “will curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance,” the DHS writes. Without the money transfer, the document says “ICE will not be able to deport those who have violated immigration laws. ICE could also be forced to reduce its current interior enforcement operations.”

FEMA has acknowledged that funds were redirected but said the transfer hasn’t jeopardized relief efforts.

FEMA’s budget was decimated last year due to the barrage of storms and fires that affected the nation and the agency was criticized heavily for its handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

The DHS denies any money transferred came from FEMA’s disasters relief accounts, which pay for work related to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“Under no circumstances was any disaster relief funding transferred from @fema to immigration enforcement efforts,” Tyler Q. Houlton, an agency spokesman, said on Twitter. “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.”

The report comes as the President is denying the number of casualties caused by Hurricane Maria last fall.

President Trump is defended his administration’s response to the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico last year, arguing new findings that Hurricane Maria killed far more people than initially believed. It’s the latest defense since Trump claimed that the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was an “unsung success.”

According to the independent analysis commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico, an estimated 2,975 more deaths than normal were recorded on the island from September 2017 to February 2018. The government’s first estimate was 64 deaths as a result of the hurricane. These numbers have left people wondering if similar results will happen again especially with the release of this document showing less funding for FEMA.

Many are questioning the transfer of money from FEMA to ICE, especially as Hurricane Florence hits the east coast.

Ray Zaccaro, Senator Merkley’s communications director, told NPR the administration’s response to the document has been indefensible.

“This comment from FEMA’s spokesperson is as factual as the president’s assertion that Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was ‘incredibly successful’ and ‘one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.'” Zaccaro said.

The release of the documents come as Hurricane Florence emptied homes and hospitals in both South and North Carolina. Sixteen people have died in Hurricane Florence so far and hundreds of thousands of people remain without power as the storm drops a lot of rain on the region.


READ: Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria Death Toll Is Now Close To 3,000 People Instead Of The 64 People Originally Reported

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The Trump Administration Is Signaling That Migrant Detention Is More Important That Disaster Relief

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The Trump Administration Is Signaling That Migrant Detention Is More Important That Disaster Relief

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Just as Tropical Storm Dorian continues to barrel towards Puerto Rico on Tuesday, news broke that President Trump would be pulling $271 million from disaster relief funds. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the pulled funds will be coming from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Coast Guard in part to support President Trump’s border enforcement efforts.

Specifically, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would receive $155 million, coming from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, to help build facilities for migrant related court cases. U.S. Coast Guard operations will be losing $116 million in order to fund nearly 6,800 more beds for immigrant detainees as well as transportation and deportation needs. According to NBC News, The new allocated $271 million in funding “would allow ICE to detain nearly 50,000 immigrants at one time.” 

The previously allocated money was originally given to FEMA over 10 years ago. The funds were originally given to be used in this year’s current budget to prepare to respond to natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

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DHS typically would have to get approval from Congress to reallocate funds from one of its agencies to another. This is because Congress appropriates each federal department’s annual budget. But instead, DHS sent a notice that said the administration has the authority to move the funds because of the “border emergency.”

“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. “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.

The U.S. government has sent more than 30,000 people back to Mexico as part of it’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. This was done with efforts to have asylum seekers wait out their immigration cases and stop the influx of migrants from making the long journey to the U.S. The Trump administration also recently rolled out new policies that will allow migrant families, including those with children, to be detained indefinitely while their court cases are pending. Many speculate this is all being done to build more family detention facilities.

There has been criticism from Democrats who say the timing of these reallocated funds is a questionable move ahead of hurricane season.

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Democratic House members have already come out swiftly and strongly disagree with DHS reallocation efforts. They’ve also accused Homeland Security of going around appropriation rules without any requests from members of Congress.  

“I object to the use of funds for that purpose because the Department has provided no substantiation for a claim that this transfer is necessary due to ‘extraordinary circumstances that imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property,’”  Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif said in a tweet. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, echoed a similar sentiment saying the allocated funds are crucial, especially during the incoming hurricane season.

“The Trump administration’s plan to divert money away from FEMA at the start of hurricane season to continue its efforts to separate and jail migrant families is backwards and cruel,” Schumer said in a statement. “Taking these critical funds from disaster preparedness and recovery efforts threatens lives and weakens the government’s ability to help Americans in the wake of natural disasters. Congress appropriated these funds to meet the American people’s priorities and I strongly oppose this effort to undermine our constitutional authority.”

President Trump weighed in on the pending storm but did so without mentioning the pulled $155 Million in funds. 

Credit: @realdonaldtrump / Twitter

This news comes as hurricane season quickly approaches here in the U.S. and as Hurricane Dorian is set to make landfall in Florida on Labor Day.The storm is already strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane that is leading the U.S. territory to declare a state of emergency.

On Tuesday morning, President Trump acknowledged the incoming Hurricane Dorian and lauded past relief efforts to Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Yet there was no mention of the recently pulled FEMA funds.

“Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end?” Trump tweeted. “Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.'”

President Trump was widely criticized for a lack of urgency and preparation in retaliation to Hurricane Maria which ravaged Puerto Rico. The storm knocked out power on the island for months and killed 2,975, a number that is still being disputed.

READ: Female Indigenous Chief Confirms That Burning The Amazon Is Akin To Genocide, She’s Learning Portuguese To Speak To Brazil’s Leaders

Puerto Rican Women Are Finding It Difficult To Access Abortion Related Health Care Putting Their Health At Risk

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Puerto Rican Women Are Finding It Difficult To Access Abortion Related Health Care Putting Their Health At Risk

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For those of you who may have been living under a rock, or just genuinely can’t keep up with the news now that there’s usually a new catastrophe or political gaffe from the Trump administration on a daily basis, it’s probably a good idea to recap what happened around Hurricane Maria.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, devastating the region and sparking an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. While recovery efforts have been in the works, abortion care has been largely ignored by authorities, leading to another set of problems that need to be addressed before Puerto Rico can really say that it’s moved on from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Granted: there’s so much more to consider than just simply boosting abortion facilities in Puerto Rico.

According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Population Economics, birth rates increase in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

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Let’s face it, anyone put in the same position would agree: if there’s no access to power, no way of really going anywhere, and there are zero things to do otherwise … you’re gonna have sex. Even though the world is pretty much falling apart around you! Part of the risks of this behavior, beyond focusing on bonking rather than safety awareness during a natural disaster, is the fact that condoms and other contraceptives aren’t necessarily readily accessible in this time. It means that if you’re not intending on getting pregnant, then this situation could put you in perilous circumstances.

The lack of regional resources after a natural disaster is not only hard af for new families – it’s also hard on people who are seeking ways to terminate their pregnancy. Where Puerto Rico is concerned, of the six abortion clinics on the main island, only one was in operation in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. However, it took nine days for that single clinic to get its doors open again. And from there, the damage from the cataclysmic storms meant that the centre didn’t have two air conditioning units or its heating system, and it had to run on a generator for three months. Because power was so expensive at this time, it meant that the clinic also had to cut its hours of operation. And if you think this is bad – that’s just the trials and tribulations of one clinic. Imagine the difficulty in trying to get others open.

Sure, there’s a problem. But aren’t there more important things to deal with in Puerto Rico, first?

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Recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been mighty slow. In fact, it took an entire year for power to be restored to the region. Poor sanitation in the area led to the spread of water-borne sicknesses, while spoiled food and contaminated drinking water also harmed the population. Pests and bugs further caused havoc and spread disease, in addition to mold and mildew. Not to mention the fact that cleanup activities also introduced further hazards to locals, and opened the potential for further injury and infections. Natural disasters are associated with a decline in the mental health of a population, too, meaning that psychological services are in dire need in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. 

At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘why are we worried about access to abortion care when there are so many other, more urgent, things to think about’? And sure, you’re not entirely wrong. But the reality is that access to healthcare services in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is crucial for reducing further loss of human life. And that healthcare must be holistic. Because while healthcare is great for recovery from injuries and treating disease, these are reactive measures to the issue at hand. Family planning and abortion care fall into the category of preventative measures, to ensure that the unintended pregnancies don’t place further stress on very limited services and resources.

The issues we’re seeing now are part of bigger, systemic problems that must be addressed for Puerto Rico’s wellbeing.

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As an unincorporated territory of the US, it stands to reason that Puerto Rico should have received considerable support from Washington DC. While no-one could forget the classic shot of Donald Trump basketball-shooting paper towels into a crowd of disaster-stricken Puerto Ricans, it’s been argued that the region was, overall, lacking in support and attention from the administration. And this criticism wasn’t a new thing. Puerto Rico’s been dealing with the Zika epidemic, which affected 1 in 7 newborns between 2016 and 2018, while also contending with the shutdown of 66 of 69 major hospitals in the region due to Hurricane Maria. It also has the highest poverty rate over any US state, while also getting less money and resource from the federal government for health programs. Yikes.

This raises questions around Puerto Rico’s representation in Washington: as it is not a state, it doesn’t have a vote in Congress. And, it only has one non-voting member of the House, known as a Resident Commissioner. Who knows what kind of improvements in assistance could have been made for Puerto Rico, if it had the right kind of political representation?

Beyond the federal level, Puerto Rico must also contend with the rise of conservatism.

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Pushback against access to family planning services, which largely draws from pervasive religious doctrine, has risen in recent years. For example, 2018 saw a really aggressive attempts to restrict abortion access in Puerto Rico. While the Senator responsible for the bill, Nayda Venegas Brown, eventually pulled it from consideration, it was designed to institute a mandatory 48-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, parental consent for minors, and a ban on the procedure outright after 20 weeks gestation. And sure, while these may seem like pretty common laws for those living on mainland US, these kinds of restrictions are basically unheard of in Puerto Rico.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, these kinds of limitations would add even more complexity to unwanted pregnancies in Puerto Rico. For example, without access to appropriate healthcare services, people may not have even known about their pregnancy until much later in their gestational cycle. Another thing to consider is that, should there be complications in the pregnancy, women may have their lives further jeopardized by restrictions on performing abortions. And, minors who may not be in contact with their parents would then become dependent on those same parents to access an abortion. Indeed, it is fortunate that Puerto Ricans were not subject to such blanket laws – particularly while they’re still dealing with the repercussions of Hurricane Maria.

So, for those of you sitting at home wondering what you can do about the predicament facing Puerto Rico, you’ve got a few options. It’s worth investigating charities in your local area that are dedicated towards providing support to Puerto Rico. Voting for candidates in the 2020 elections that have proposed policies to support Puerto Rico is also crucial. Additionally, improving awareness about women’s rights by sharing accurate information on social media – like this piece – can help break down the stigma around family planning.