The Trump Administration Is Taking Millions Away from FEMA for More ICE Beds

Instead of getting congressional approval, DHS sent a notice saying the administration has the authority because of extraordinary circumstances.
August 27, 2019, 9:04pm
Instead of getting congressional approval, DHS sent a notice saying the administration has the authority because of extraordinary circumstances.

The Trump administration is going to take money away from FEMA to pay for more ICE detention space.

The Department of Homeland Security will transfer $116 million from other agencies under its control — including the Coast Guard, the TSA, and FEMA — to fund the expansion of the immigrant detention system, NBC News reports. The money will go toward 9,000 more beds to “manage the crisis at the Southwest border and expediently transfer aliens from overcrowded Border Patrol stations,” according to a notice DHS sent Congress of its plans in July. The exact number of planned beds may have decreased, though; DHS officials told NBC the funds would fund nearly 6,800 beds.


Under normal circumstances, DHS would have to ask Congress for permission to reallocate funds from one of its agencies to another, since congressional appropriators determine each federal department’s annual budget. Instead of getting approval, however, DHS sent the notice, which states that the administration has the authority to reallocate funds because of extraordinary circumstances. The notice says the surge in arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border has “escalated into a full-blown emergency” that has diverted resources and could prevent ICE from arresting “known offenders” in the rest of the country.

DHS is also taking an additional $155 million from FEMA to fund temporary court hearings for asylum-seekers forced to stay in Mexico as part of the Remain in Mexico policy.

Meanwhile, FEMA continues to struggle from a depleted workforce, and critics have said the agency’s regional distribution centers don’t have enough supplies to distribute to communities affected by natural disasters. Hurricane season just started, but this year’s relief budget has already been allocated.

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has diverted money from FEMA to fund immigration enforcement. DHS transferred nearly $10 million from the emergency management agency to ICE in 2018.

Spending the money

Though border crossings have dropped since May, the administration has said the surge in migrants has led to overcrowding at both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing stations along the border and ICE detention facilities across the country.


“Without additional funding for detention beds, ICE will not be able to support the influx of migrants from CBP apprehensions,” the notice says.

The Trump administration recently published new regulations that will allow migrant families, including those with children, to be detained indefinitely while their court cases are decided. A coalition of 19 states, plus Washington, D.C. have already filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, which isn’t expected to go into effect for nearly two months. Regardless, it’s possible that the administration is laying the groundwork to build more family detention facilities.

But the notice focuses on adult detention, and it’s unclear if ICE can use they money for child detention. “ICE will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirement” and may also be forced to “reduce its current interior enforcement operations,” according to the notice.

The notice also states the Trump administration’s controversial Remain in Mexico policy has exceeded ICE’s “infrastructure capacity and security limitations” at the border, where temporary courts have been set up to process migrants’ cases.

Critics have said the program, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, not only puts migrants in danger but is unnecessarily expensive. DHS reportedly paid about $25 million for one of these temporary courtrooms — which is really just a series of tents built on a floodplain — even though the city of Laredo offered to lease it an office building for just $1.

Some Congressional appropriators have already expressed concern about the DHS’ reprogramming plan. In a letter to cting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Homeland Security, slammed the administration for arresting more than 600 immigrant workers at chicken plants in Mississippi — the biggest worksite raid in the agency’s history — despite its apparent lack of bed space.

“It is of great concern that during the course of this administration, there has been a growing disconnect between the will of Congress, as represented by ICE funding levels in enacted appropriations bills signed by the president, and the department’s immigration enforcement operations, which often lack justification,” Roybal-Allard continued.

Cover image: This Dec. 10, 2008, file photo shows a row of beds at the Elizabeth Detention Facility, a Corrections Corporation of America immigration facility in Elizabeth, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)