With Hurricane Dorian looming, Trump Administration transfers $155 million in disaster aid to ICE


August 28, 2019

Aug. 29 update: Dorian is now a hurricane and is threatening the southeastern U.S.
As Puerto Rico braced for the impact of Tropical Storm Dorian, media reports emerged this week detailing the Trump Administration’s plan to divert at least $155 million in federal disaster aid in order to increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The $155 million, part of an even larger $271 million being taken from the Department of Homeland Security, would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. FEMA typically spearheads the federal government’s efforts to respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters, ranging from wildfires to major floods to tornados and drought.

The news drew the immediate ire of leaders in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and Sen. Jon Tester, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Pelosi, in particular, noted the Administration’s awkward timing, calling the move “deeply dangerous and made in bad faith.”

“Stealing from appropriated funds is always unacceptable, but to pick the pockets of disaster relief funding in order to fund an appalling, inhumane family incarceration plan is staggering – and to do so on the eve of hurricane season is stunningly reckless,” she said in a statement released by her office.

Hurricane season typically runs from June 1 through the end of October; however, peak season is considered August and September, when warmer ocean currents fuel tropical activity. Tropical Storm Dorian will be the first named storm to affect Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory almost two years ago, killing thousands and severely damaging the island’s already precarious infrastructure.

And Puerto Ricans, including not just those living on the island but also on the U.S. mainland, are worried. “There are families who still don’t have power since Maria, so what’s going to happen now with [Tropical Storm] Dorian?” said Jeannie Calderin, the president and founder of the Florida-based charitable organization Somos Puerto Rico Tampa. “Another two years?”

Calderin, in an interview with Florida radio station WTSP, added, “I already know that many places ran out of water, so there’s no water, there are very long lines at the gas stations and the Doppler (radar) out of Puerto Rico, it is not working.”

In a tweet Tuesday, President Trump almost seemed to blame the island for Dorian’s approach, tweeting, “Wow! Yet another storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end?”

He then repeated his erroneous claim that Congress approved, and he signed, $92 billion in aid for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria. In reality, Congress has approved $42 billion, but experts said only $11 to $15 billion has actually made it to the island – and emergency aid was delayed for months on end due to opposition from Trump himself. ($92 billion is actually a commonly-used estimate of the amount of money scheduled to arrive in Puerto Rico as disaster relief over the next 20 years.)

What can Puerto Rico expect from Dorian? Weather forecasters warn of heavy rain, flash floods, dangerous mudslides, and strong winds, which in turn could cause widespread outages of electricity.

And Dorian could be particularly bad news for home owners, an estimated 30,000 of whom still have blue tarps covering their houses because they have not been able to repair their roofs.

Calderin, in her interview with WTSP, bemoaned the delays in addressing Puerto Rico’s struggling infrastructure. “Nothing has been done. Nothing has been done, as a matter of fact, I went to Puerto Rico two months ago, and you could still see the light poles on the street. They hadn’t been fixed properly. I have many pictures when I was getting to Puerto Rico and you could see the blue tarps on (the roofs) as we were approaching the island. So I think after two years, not enough has been done.”

As bad as Dorian is for Puerto Ricans, the news could get worse in a hurry. Although Dorian’s long-term forecast is uncertain, the possibility exists that late this week or early next week, it will make landfall in Florida as a powerful, category 2 or category 3 hurricane.

If that happens, Floridians living under the hot sun with damaged homes and no electricity may not understand the Trump Administration’s decision to transfer $155 million in disaster aid in order to incarcerate families and their children along the U.S. southern border.

Budget and Appropriations
disaster aid
Puerto Rico