Amid a political fight over President Obama’s immigration reform actions, US lawmakers have until Friday night to renew funding for the US Department of Homeland Security. If not, the impacts go beyond the furlough of 13 percent of the agency’s employees.
House Republicans have
passed a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations
bill, but it is contingent upon gutting Obama’s 2012 and 2014 executive orders that negated the threat
of deportation for an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants
seeking refuge in the United States.
Obama has threatened to veto the House measure or any other that
threatens his immigration orders.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he would gladly let
funding expire for the 230,000-employee agency, whose stated
mission is “to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and
resilient against terrorism and other hazards.”
In the Senate, Democrats, who hold a slight minority in the Upper
Chamber, have blocked the House funding bill several times,
calling for “clean” DHS-funding legislation that would maintain
Obama’s immigration orders.
On Wednesday, the Senate did unanimously approve to open debate
on a $40 billion DHS-funding measure that would not include the
immigration amendments in the House-passed measure.
A final Senate vote on clean DHS-funding legislation could come
as early as Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Kentucky) said the Senate may weigh in on the immigration
executive orders in a separate vote.
“I would welcome bipartisan cooperation,” McConnell told
senators, according to AFP.
Speaker Boehner said Wednesday that the House will wait for the
Senate’s next solid move before acting.
“Until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait-and-see
mode,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday after meeting with
his Republican caucus.
To stay firm and keep favor with his conservative flank, though,
there is evidence that Boehner is taking a risk that meets
disapproval with public opinion. A recent CNN survey found that 53 percent of
respondents said they would blame the GOP for a DHS shutdown,
while just 30 percent said they would blame Obama.
With a considerable number of DHS employees facing furlough and
most other employees forced to work through an agency shutdown
without pay, Republicans may have to own any negative
ramifications that come with an agency charged with a substantial
amount of domestic policing running at less-than-full strength.
Who works during a shutdown
Funding expiration would affect some DHS services, but not
front-line airport and border security, or any activities that
“directly relate to preserving the safety of human life or
the protection of property.”
The agency has designated around 85 percent of its workers, or
about 200,000 people, as being “exempt” from a forced furlough,
given they work in areas that are vital to security or are funded
by sources unrelated to the congressionally-approved budget.
For instance, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) travel
screenings at airports would certainly continue, as would the
Federal Air Marshal Service, Coast Guard patrols and disaster
While these employees would be required to work, they would not
get paid until a funding measure is passed by Congress and signed
by Obama. This scenario will certainly hamper a workforce rated
as having the lowest morale among large federal government
“People on the front lines, aviation security, maritime
security will be forced to come to work without a paycheck. And
so for the working men and women of my department to have to work
without a paycheck is very significant and very serious. And
Congress needs to appreciate that,” DHS Secretary Jeh
Johnson said Sunday.
What stops while funding expires
About 30,000 “non-essential personnel” would be
sidelined during a department shutdown. Procurement, hiring,
training, administrative support and “the bulk” of management
involved in coordinating efforts such as domestic anti-terror
operations would all be affected by a funding expiration,
according to reports.
A DHS shutdown would also freeze $90 million in border security
efforts; $21 million for Secret Service preparations ahead of the
2016 presidential election; and $2.5 billion offered to states
and localities for law enforcement initiatives, according to
Johnson said at a press conference Monday that 13 percent of the
agency out on furlough will put a strain staffing and readiness,
whether it’s for a natural disaster or a terror threat.
Officials with the New York Police Department said Wednesday that the arrest of three New York men who allegedly
planned to travel to Syria to join the jihadist group Islamic
State highlighted the need for DHS anti-terror operations to
remain fully funded.
“I’m pushing my headquarters staff to stay one step ahead of
[Islamic State], one step ahead of our challenges on aviation
security, one step ahead of monitoring our illegal migration, our
border security on our southern border,” Johnson said
recently. “If we shut down, my headquarters staff is dialed
back to a skeleton and so that hampers our ability to do
Around 80 percent of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
employees will be included in the furlough, and outstanding
disaster payments will cease. Trainings for FEMA, border patrol,
and customs agents will stop, according to Johnson, who said
Monday that an agency shutdown would “amount to a serious
disruption in our ability to protect the homeland.”
Anything funded by a “non-disaster” DHS grant would halt as well,
“from surveillance cameras in New York to K-9 units in
Massachusetts to firefighters’ oxygen tanks in Denver,” The
In addition, E-Verify, a citizenship and visa database used in
hiring processes, would not be active. About 500,000 of 6 million
private employers use the database.
Johnson has said an agency shutdown would negatively
affect investments in border security and geospatial intelligence
operations, as well as the “more aggressive
investigations” by immigration and customs officials of
criminal organizations involved in drug, cyber, and human
Ironically, the agency shutdown would not hamper the US
Citizenship and Immigration Services – the agency charged with
enacting Obama’s 2012 and 2014 executive actions on immigration
reform – as it is funded mostly by fees paid by applicants.
The heart of the debate
Under the executive order Obama announced in November, undocumented
immigrants who have lived in the US for five years or more, and
are parents of American citizens or lawful residents, will be
subjected to criminal and national security background checks.
Once these are completed, they can pay taxes and defer
deportation for three years at a time.
The plan also called for the US to increase security at the
borders and focus deportation efforts on criminals and potential
security threats rather than families.
Congressional Republicans have sought to block the order ever
To avoid the Friday expiration and push a larger decision into
the future, Congress and Obama could decide to pass a short-term
“continuing resolution” that would extend agency funding at
current levels while lawmakers continue to debate a long-term
In October 2013, a similar, albeit larger, budget
faceoff between Republicans and Democrats caused the majority of
the US government to shut down for 16 days, putting nearly 1
million workers on mandatory leave. An eleventh-hour agreement
between the parties spared a potentially damaging debt default.