September 06, 2019

As Trump Looted FEMA and the Military for His Border Policies, DHS Bought High-End Chairs With Taxpayer Funds
Christian Torres/APAs President Donald Trump’s immigration policies have swelled detention center populations on both sides of the U.S. southern border, his administration has repeatedly pillaged funds from key Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs and agencies to fund cash-strapped immigration enforcement agencies.In April, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told Congress that the crush of undocumented immigrants in the agency’s custody meant that “the system is full,” and that given the scale of the crisis, the department “will exhaust our resources before the end of our fiscal year.”But while administration officials have defended the diversion of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from airport security operations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund, and the U.S. Coast Guard, DHS has spent nearly $120 million of its funding… on office furniture.Since President Trump’s inauguration, DHS and its subsidiary agencies have spent $119,530,544.14 on office furniture, according to data compiled from the service USA Spending, which tracks federal spending. Since the implementation of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which resulted in the traumatic separation of thousands of migrant children from their families, the department has spent $79,359,212.32.According to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cost-per-night estimate, the Trump administration’s furniture expenditure for the department would have been enough to run the agency’s family detention facility in Dilley, Texas, at full capacity for nearly half a year. It’s also almost enough to repay FEMA for $155 million in federal disaster aid that was diverted to ICE last month. (Just in time for hurricane season.)The office furniture expenditures, sorted by code in the Federal Procurement Data System Product and Service Codes Manual, include filing cabinets, dry-erase boards, desks, and many, many chairs—and does not include cots, bed frames, or mattresses destined for use by undocumented immigrants in detention centers.Much of the new furniture is earmarked for the department’s new Washington, D.C. headquarters, dubbed “the most ambitious federal building project since the Pentagon.” The project, a 4.5 million-square-foot office complex due to be completed in 2026, is the largest construction job in the history of the General Services Administration. A review of purchase descriptions reveal that a surprisingly large percentage of the department’s furniture outlays rest—recline?—on an expensive taste in office chairs. Herman Miller, the luxury furniture maker whose Aeron chair is featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, is the most frequent recipient of DHS orders for office furniture.In July, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) placed an order to the company for $515,976.09 for office furniture intended for its service center in Laguna Niguel, California. In May, the agency spent $786,409.61 on Herman Miller furniture for an application support center in nearby Tustin, California. One month before that, USCIS spent $803,095.54 for furniture, also from Herman Miller, for an office in Jackson, Mississippi.DHS did not return a request for comment on its budgetary priorities, or whether its furniture budget might be a better target for redirecting funds than disaster relief.Meanwhile, immigrants in detention centers have been on the receiving end of miserable conditions caused, in part, by underfunding and overcrowding. In February, for example, more than 2,000 Central American migrants were held in an abandoned body-bag factory in Piedras Negras, Mexico, complaining of being “prisoners” in a facility where nighttime temperatures dropped below freezing and where there weren’t enough clothes or cots to go around.President Trump, meanwhile, has shown little compunction for repurposing federal taxpayer dollars earmarked for public safety, education, and the military to be used for his immigration agenda. On Tuesday, The Daily Beast reported that the Trump administration plans to pay for his long-promised border wall with funds redirected from the construction of elementary schools, hazardous waste warehouse facilities, and fire stations.
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