By Savannah Hulsey Pointer
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) questioned a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official on the body’s participation in helping the United States cope with the crisis of illegal immigration.
In a Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology hearing entitled “The Future of FEMA: Agency Perspectives with Administrator Criswell,” held on July 13, the future of FEMA took center stage as Administrator Deanne Criswell testified before lawmakers on FEMA’s involvement in the ongoing southwest border crisis.
While cities continue to seek FEMA’s assistance, Ms. Criswell looked to reaffirm the agency’s commitment to its core mission of reducing loss and protecting the nation from all hazards.
The subcommittee chairman, Mr. D’Esposito, raised concerns about the strain the crisis has put on cities across the country and questioned FEMA’s inclusion in the Southwest Border Contingency Fund.
The chairman highlighted the impact of the humanitarian crises at the southern border on cities nationwide. He expressed frustration over the financial burden placed on cities such as New York and Chicago.
“Thanks to Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas’ complacency at the southern border, humanitarian crises have taken a toll, again, a toll on cities across this country, and not just in border cities like El Paso, but also in cities like New York and Chicago, where they have asked FEMA to help cover the cost of feeding and housing illegal immigrants rights,” Mr. D’Esposito said during opening remarks.
Mr. D’Esposito referenced a letter he sent to Ms. Criswell outlining concerns about the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), requesting a briefing to discuss the issues raised.
The lawmaker also underscored the urgency of the situation pointing out that the migrant crisis shows no signs of abating and that cities will likely continue seeking FEMA’s assistance.
Mr. D’Esposito stressed the importance of FEMA’s primary mission in the wake of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other disasters. The chairman called for a focus on building community resilience and improving recovery programs.
“Unfortunately, it seems that this migrant crisis has no end in sight and cities will likely continue to ask FEMA for help, further adding, adding to the agency’s very full plate,” Mr. D’Esposito said.
“FEMA’s focus should be on helping communities with building resiliency to natural disasters, improving recovery programs, and completing existing.”
Questions for FEMA Official
Mr. D’Esposito posed a pointed question to Ms. Criswell regarding FEMA’s inclusion in the Southwest Border Contingency Fund.
He questioned why FEMA, an agency responsible for disaster response and recovery, was allocating funds for addressing migration surges along the border, particularly when Mayorkas has denied the existence of a crisis.
In response, Ms. Criswell clarified FEMA’s role, emphasizing that the agency is not an immigration body but rather follows congressional direction in supporting humanitarian efforts.
However, she acknowledged FEMA’s participation in the development of and support for, the president’s fiscal year 2024 budget, which includes $4.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security Border Contingency Fund.
Ms. Criswell explained that depending on the evolving conditions at the border, up to $800 million from the fund could be allocated to FEMA’s Shelter and Services Program (SSP), the same level as in fiscal year 2023.
“We do support the president’s budget and we did participate in the development of that request, which does include, as you stated, $4.7 billion for the DHS Border Contingency Fund,” Ms. Criswell said.
“Depending on the conditions and the … dynamic nature of the border, what that contingency fund also provides is up to 800 million that could be available to FEMA to support our shelter in Services program. This would be the same level as fiscal year ’23.”
Prior Investigation into FEMA
Allegations that taxpayer funds are being unlawfully used to facilitate illegal immigration prompted House Republicans to launch an investigation into FEMA’s shelter program in May of this year.
House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs Chairman Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), and Representative Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.) are spearheading the investigation.
In their press release, the legislators stated that they are responding to reports that FEMA is allowing taxpayer funds to go to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are using the funds to “facilitate and incentivize illegal immigration to the United States.”
In a letter (pdf) sent to Ms.Criswell, the Republicans requested documents related to FEMA’s plan to ensure that EFSP only reimburses authorized expenses.
“The Committee on Oversight and Accountability is conducting oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) administration of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP),” the lawmakers wrote.
“Based on recent reporting, EFSP funds are possibly being used by certain NGOs to offset expenses incurred abroad in efforts to facilitate and incentivize illegal immigration to the United States. If true, this is a gross misuse of federal taxpayer dollars.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.