EXCLUSIVE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees federal funding for services related to noncitizen migrant arrivals in the U.S., said the border isn’t part of its “mission space,” according to emails obtained by Fox News Digital.
FEMA, which is a Department of Homeland Security subagency tasked with overseeing federal disaster assistance programs, made the statement in an email exchange with Democrat Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego’s staff, which invited agency officials to tour the border. Gallego has criticized the agency for diverting hundreds of millions of dollars in migrant service assistance away from Arizona to northern cities and states like New York and Chicago.
“Arizona’s border communities have been on the front line of this border crisis. We’ve worked, again and again, to get the administration to listen to their concerns,” Gallego told Fox News Digital. “They’ve refused to communicate, answer even the most basic of questions, and perhaps worst of all, chosen to divert funds away from the border.”
“Now, when we’ve presented Administrator [Deanne] Criswell with the opportunity to meet directly with Arizonans to hear their concerns, FEMA has chosen to throw their hands up and claim the border isn’t their problem,” he continued. “That’s insulting to Arizonans, and the agency should be held accountable. When Arizonans complain about the government doing nothing to support them – this is exactly the type of behavior they’re talking about.”
On Sept. 19, Gallego penned a private letter, obtained exclusively by Fox News Digital, to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to invite her to the border so that she could see first-hand the “immigration-related needs of Arizona’s border communities.”
In response, a FEMA official told his office a month later in an Oct. 13 email that “the border is not part of FEMA’s mission space and it would be more appropriate, and much more beneficial for constituents in border communities, for [Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] to take the lead on this border tour.” The official also noted that FEMA believes the Shelter and Services Program (SSP) is “a CBP program.”
Congress established the SSP under the 2023 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act to “support sheltering and related activities provided by non-Federal entities, including facility improvements and construction, in support of relieving overcrowding in short-term holding facilities.” The fiscal year 2023 DHS funding bill specifically earmarked $363.8 million to FEMA, not CBP, to manage the program.
As part of the SSP program, FEMA has sent $12.1 million to the government of Pima County, Arizona, and another $19.7 million to assist the nonprofit World Hunger Ecumenical Arizona Task Force’s work in Yuma County, Maricopa County and Cochise County, according to federal data reviewed by Fox News Digital.
By comparison, the New York City has received more than $106 million in federal SSP funding; the state of Illinois and Chicago’s city government have received $29.9 million from the program; and the state of Colorado and Denver, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis and Philadelphia have collectively received tens of millions of dollars more, the data showed.
Those cities and states have repeatedly appealed to the federal government for federal aid to assist with handling migrants who have overwhelmed local services. New York City Mayor Eric Adams met with Criswell to personally request such funding in April, two months before FEMA gave his government $106 million in SSP money.
In his letter inviting Criswell to the border last month, Gallego wrote, “I have written to you previously about the devastating impacts of decreased SSP funding to border states, including in Arizona – without continued funding, towns and counties will be forced to use funds from their annual budget to respond, pulling resources from regular community services. By visiting the border, you will see the daily challenges local leaders and [nonprofits] face firsthand.”
“I believe having the opportunity to speak with local leaders in our community would further support FEMA’s mission while improving transparency and communication, which local officials state is a continued challenge,” he continued.
Gallego has also criticized FEMA’s handling of SSP funding in previous letters to Criswell, President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The letters cited his conversations with local officials who he said told him that the administration “has not done enough to meet their needs” and that they are in need of additional resources.
Meanwhile, the Southwest border continues to be inundated with record-breaking waves of migrants. Overall, the government reported 260,000 border encounters in September, an all-time record, and thousands of migrants have crossed into Arizona every day.
FEMA didn’t respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.