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Fake News: Sen. Jeff Merkley Claims Trump Admin Shuffled $10 Million from FEMA to ICE

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) gave documents to MSNBC he said proved the Trump administration transferred almost $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), just as the eastern United States faces Hurricane Florence hitting land in the next few days.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported that claim on Tuesday and the story was picked up by many other left-wing media outlets as fact, even as a spokesman from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — the agency over FEMA — said the report was inaccurate.

“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,” DHS Spokesman Tyler Houlton said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Maddow reported that the $9.8 million would help ICE with border security, including building new detention centers, even while admitting that DHS said that the transfer of funds from one agency operating budget to another agency is governed by law.

“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,” Houlton tweeted.

FEMA even contacted Merkley’s office to explain the facts – to no avail.

“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?” FEMA spokeswoman Jenny Burke tweeted on Wednesday.

The left-wing media, however, continued to advance Merkley’s claim despite the facts, including Talking Points Memo: 

Merkley contradicted the spokesperson’s defense, saying that the documents list the money as coming from FEMA’s “response and recovery” line, and he added that the decision seems especially misguided as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolina coast.

According to Merkley’s documents, the money is slated to be used for costs associated with immigrant detention and deportation.

The Washington Post joined the chorus, including publishing Merkley statement about the fake news. Merkley said in the statement:

This is a scandal. At the start of hurricane season  — when American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still suffering from FEMA’s inadequate recovery efforts — the administration transferred millions of dollars away from FEMA. And for what? To implement their profoundly misguided ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. It wasn’t enough to rip thousands of children out of the arms of their parents — the administration chose to partly pay for this horrific program by taking away from the ability to respond to damage from this year’s upcoming and potentially devastating hurricane season.

“The Trump administration appears to have diverted nearly $10 million in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency at the forefront of the president’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to the separation of hundreds of children, some as young as 18 months, from their parents,” the Post reported.

The Post did report that the transfer of funds was a matter of national security and public safety.

The memorandum sheds light on the immigration-enforcement operations enhanced by the FEMA funds. Without the transfer, the document notes, “ICE will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirements in FY 2018.” Insufficient funding, DHS observes, could prevent the agency from deporting people who stand in violation of the country’s immigration laws while requiring ICE to “release any new book-ins and illegal border violators,” to “reduce its current interior enforcement operations” and to limit “criminal alien and fugitive arrests.”

These new limitations, the department warns, “would pose a significant risk to public safety and national security by permitting known offenders to remain at large.”

Like other left-wing media, the Post’s report also trashed the Trump administration’s response to last year’s hurricane season, saying FEMA was “woefully unprepared” for Maria’s hit on Puerto Rico and “low-income” people still need help a year after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas.

Meanwhile, the president is confident with the plan in place.

“We’ll handle it,” Trump said in a video posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday. “We’re ready. We’re able. We’ve got the finest people I think anywhere in the world.”

“FEMA and first responders are out there,” Trump said. “They’re going to stand through the danger of this storm.”

He warned Americans to take the storm seriously and to “get out of its way.”

The storm, which could hit the U.S. East Coast as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane as early as Thursday, is expected to have the greatest impact in North Carolina but parts of South Carolina and Virginia are also in the hurricane’s path.

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