The Trump administration has reportedly moved to shift millions of dollars away from disaster relief to increase funding for migrant detention centers, a move that comes as Tropical Storm Dorian is set to hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday.
The White House plans to pull $155 million out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund "to pay for immigration detention space and temporary hearing locations for asylum-seekers who have been forced to wait in Mexico," according to NBC News.
"At the start of hurricane season, DHS is robbing hundreds of millions of dollars from disaster relief to fund a disaster of its own making."
—Charanya Krishnaswami, Amnesty International USA
The boost in funding for detention, NBC reported, would give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the capacity to hold 50,000 migrants at one time.
"The allocations were sent to Congress as a notification rather than a request," said NBC, "because the administration believes it has the authority to repurpose these funds after Congress did not pass more funding for ICE detention beds as part of an emergency funding bill for the southwest border in June."
Rights groups reacted with alarm to the Trump administration's decision to shift the disaster aid funds as Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland brace for the historically high point of hurricane season. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Tropical Storm Dorian could slam the Southeast U.S. coast as a Category 3 hurricane.
"Puerto Rico could soon be facing a climate disaster as the Tropical Storm Dorian is expected to turn into a hurricane," tweeted immigrant rights group United We Dream. "The money that could be used to help Puerto Rico will instead be used to detain more children and parents in concentration camps."
Trump is taking away money from programs that could aid people during natural disasters, just like when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico or when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Instead that money will be used to target immigrant communities.
We are paying with our lives.
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— United We Dream (@UNITEDWEDREAM) August 27, 2019
Amnesty International condemned the Trump administration's move as "an outrageous misuse of resources."
"At the start of hurricane season, DHS is robbing hundreds of millions of dollars from disaster relief to fund a disaster of its own making," said Charanya Krishnaswami, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA. "It is using vital funds to further some of its cruelest policies—putting asylum-seekers in harm's way and detaining families and children in search of safety."
The decision to shift funds away from disaster relief was reported hours after President Donald Trump on Wednesday falsely inflated the amount of federal aid Puerto Rico has received since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
"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.'"
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a 2020 Puerto Rico gubernatorial candidate, said it is "reprehensible that yet again Donald Trump chooses to lie."
"Will it ever end?" Cruz tweeted, mocking Trump. "Congress has approved $40 billion and $14 billion [has] been disbursed. Would it be too much to ask for you to act presidential and do your job without a lie or an insult?"