President Trump's top official at the Department of Homeland Security defended the administration's controversial decision toto the southern border for immigration enforcement as his agency prepares to respond to a powerful storm heading for the southeast coast.
In an interview Sunday on "Face the Nation," Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said that the expected transfer of more than $155 million funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would not negatively affect his department's response to Hurricane Dorian, a now Category 5 storm that was set to pummel the Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean on Sunday.
"There will be no impact of the potential reprogramming on our ability to respond to this storm," McAleenan said, adding that FEMA has about $25 billion at its disposal to respond to major disasters. "We believe we have fully adequate funding. And no money has actually been moved at this point to begin with."
Last week it was revealed that the Trump administration had notified Congress that it planned to reprogram funds from several Homeland Security agencies — including FEMA, the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Coast Guard — to expand space in detention centers for migrants and finance other immigration enforcement initiatives.
The administration is slated to use $155 million from FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to establish facilities along the border for asylum seekers placed in the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, known as "Remain in Mexico."
The move elicited withering condemnation from congressional Democrats, who denounced it as a politically motivated decision that could hamper the government's ability to respond to disasters — especially during hurricane season.
But McAleenan on Sunday pushed back against the criticism, saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the vocal critics of the decision, was "misinformed."
Asked about concerns that the Department of Homeland Security's focus on immigration enforcement during Mr. Trumps tenure could make the agency ill-equipped to handle its important national security and disaster response responsibilities, McAleenan said he and other department officials were not "distracted."
"We have to manage two crises at the same time," he said.
Pressed again, the Homeland Security chief reiterated that the response to Dorian — which he said might not make landfall in the U.S. — would suffer no operational or preparedness impact due to the transfer of funds to the border.
"None whatsoever — I can say that unequivocally," McAleenan said.