San Francisco Chronicle (Editorial)
September 12, 2018
In the teeth of a “monster” storm, the revelation that the federal government diverted money from handling life-and-death emergencies to jailing harmless immigrants speaks to a political disaster unfolding across months and years. The Trump administration’s immigration policy is not only a cruel and unnecessary piece of demagoguery; it’s also a distraction from and a drain on legitimate government functions.
With Hurricane Florence expected to make landfall on the East Coast as soon as Thursday amid dire warnings about its capacity to inundate populous areas, records released this week by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., show that at the beginning of the current hurricane season, the Department of Homeland Security took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s operations budget and gave most of it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for expanded detentions and deportations.
The damning document was released as President Trump drew renewed attention to the administration’s disastrous handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, declaring it “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done” and an “unsung success” — which is at least a creative way of describing a notorious failure. This was shortly after a definitive study found that nearly 3,000 Americans died as a result of that hurricane, the overwhelming majority of them due to prolonged delays in restoring power, medical care and other services in the aftermath of the storm.
The $9.8 million redirected from FEMA in June constitutes only about 1 percent of the agency’s operating budget, and a spokesman hastened to point out that it was not taken from hurricane relief funds. The decision nevertheless looks dubious given both the destination of the funds and FEMA’s acknowledgment of its failures after Maria.
Moreover, that money is just a sliver of the $200 million taken from a number of Homeland Security agencies — including the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Protection — to shore up ICE’s budget. That is partly because the immigration agency has been holding over 40,000 immigrants in custody, more than its funding allows, forcing other agencies to make up the difference.
This cost to needed government services comes on top of the human toll of a largely fabricated immigration crisis, and it’s only a sample of a massive misdirection of revenues and energy. The FEMA diversion is emblematic of resources robbed from purposes that unite us in their obvious necessity, like helping our fellow Americans in harm’s way, in the service of a divisive attack on our most vulnerable neighbors.
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