With Hurricane Florence having done its number on the United States, it’s important to reflect on the events before, during and after the storm and to ask a few questions. Was America prepared to the fullest extent? Were the damages minimal? What could’ve been done better? How does the response to this disaster match up to those of past storms?
Similar questions surfaced in the aftermath of the United States’ most recent hurricane, as one would expect; however, President Donald Trump has come under fire.
As a result of Hurricane Florence, 37 people, 5,500 hogs and 3.4 million chickens have died. In addition, farm facilities were flooded, beaches overturned, properties destroyed and lives ruined. For farmers across the Carolinas, this particular storm ended up having a worse impact compared to their last hurricane, Matthew, leaving their barns flooded and inaccessible and their livestock dead.
Although these numbers might not seem particularly high to some, one would think that the death rates would be lower. In a rich, advanced country, such as the U.S., that has dealt with these storms for decades, why would citizens and animals still be dying? What went wrong?
For some, the answer might lie in the government’s transfer of millions of dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A document released by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, revealed that in June of 2018, nearly $10 million was taken from FEMA’s budget and given to ICE to be used for immigrant detention centers and deportations. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has jurisdiction over ICE, claims that this amount was less than 1 percent of FEMA’s operational budget, and argued that it was necessary in order to pay for DHS employee travel expenses, training, basic purchase cards, and office supplies. DHS argued that, in addition to this particular FEMA account, FEMA also possesses an account specifically for disaster response that contains $25 billion and is untouchable.
To put this in perspective, FEMA receives $16 billion annually from the federal government, while ICE receives nearly half of that. However, ICE drew $200 million from other departments under DHS in the past year, including a hefty $14 million from the U.S. Coast Guard and other amounts from the Federal Air Marshal program, the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office, and others. ICE’s reckless stealing and spending has received bipartisan criticism in the past for its “lack of fiscal discipline” and “unsustainable” spending. Congressional records show that ICE obtained an extra $83 million in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and another $127 in fiscal year 2016––numbers which are not commonly made available to the public.
So, where does all of this money go, exactly? $93 million has gone to immigrant detention centers, a three percent increase that will allow ICE to house an extra 2,300 detainees. $107 million has gone towards “transportation and removal” of detainees, a 29 percent increase.
Even with a high level of confidence in FEMA’s current budget (so much so that it had funds taken from it and given towards detaining children) and operations, 37 people, 5,500 hogs, and 3.4 million chickens still died in the wake of Hurricane Florence under President Trump.
President Trump was extremely adamant in his campaigning about keeping the U.S. safe by doing anything and everything possible. He wanted to help rural America, create jobs and better the country––and yet, there were unnecessary deaths. It seems counterintuitive given his stance on immigration that the president would take funding from disaster relief in America and put it towards illegal immigrants, but apparently, it makes perfect sense.
However ridiculous this notion seems, it’s not incredibly far-fetched coming from our president. Take Puerto Rico, for example: an unincorporated U.S. territory that lost 3,000 people in a hurricane and received underwhelming help from FEMA. A post-storm report showed that FEMA vastly underestimated how much food and fresh water Puerto Rico would need, and how hard supplies would be to deliver. Although the response was deemed chaotic and full of logistical problems, the president considered it an “unsung success”.
It’s not just the president and FEMA who failed the country, though; Congress shares a portion the blame. Could ICE and FEMA easily have both gotten more funds instead? Absolutely. Did Congress and the president make an active effort to invest in important resources instead of contributing to a never-ending arms race? Did Republicans in Congress consider decreasing the military’s budget? Did Democrats stand up for the peace and prosperity they claim they’re extremely interested in achieving? Did Congress as a whole attempt to compromise rather than just throw a budget together to avoid a shutdown that would mean no pay for them? No.
Is it a surprise for this administration? Not at all. For the U.S.? That’s up for you to decide.
Liz Collins is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.