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President Trump attends a briefing with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
President Trump attends a briefing with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.

South Florida Groups Protest Trump's "Reckless" Looting of FEMA to Fund ICE

As Hurricane Dorian barreled into the U.S. Virgin Islands on its rampage through the Caribbean, the Trump administration was busy redirecting millions of dollars in federal disaster relief to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Unsurprisingly, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican lawmakers didn't put up much resistance — you'd have an easier time pulling teeth than getting them to criticize the president — but local groups sure did. And this week, they're speaking out.

The campaign Defund Hate, launched by various immigrant advocacy groups and other local organizations, begins today in Miami, and additional events are planned this week in Miramar, Fort Lauderdale, and Sunrise. The events are being organized by groups including the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Broward for Progress, and United We Dream Florida.

"To withdraw emergency relief funds to finance the inhumane incarceration of immigrant families is terrible — but to do it on the eve of a hurricane's arrival is terribly reckless," says Maria Bilbao, an organizer with United We Dream, an immigrant advocacy organization.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees both ICE and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), announced at the end of August it would repurpose more than $270 million from FEMA, the Coast Guard, and elsewhere to pay for nearly 7,000 new ICE beds and to create new locations for emergency immigration court hearings at the border.

The new beds will allow ICE to detain more than 60,000 individuals at once, well above the 42,000 beds that Congress approved during appropriations. To date, ICE has already surpassed congressional appropriations and is expected to reach an average daily population of 50,000 detainees by the end of this month. It's unclear whether ICE can use the new money on child detention as well as adult detention.

"We already know how ICE is going to use the new money," Bilbao suggests. "They terrorize people and destroy families. They're responsible for abuse within and outside detention camps. They need less funding, not more."

Though the hook for the Defund Hate campaign is the Trump administration's treatment of FEMA dollars as its own personal piggy bank, organizers say they want more than just a return of disaster-relief funds: They want to see ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) defunded. To that end, this Thursday, they plan to visit the Sunrise office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who sits on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. She was one of many Florida Democrats who criticized the Trump administration's move to take funding from FEMA and other agencies.

"There are no limits to Trump’s irrational, callous behavior, or to this Administration's disregard for the will of a coequal branch of government," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Finally, this Friday, organizers will host a rally, Hate Has No Place in Broward, outside the U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale to further push for the defunding of ICE and CBP. 

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