Dept. of Homeland Security shutdown looms, would idle 15% of workforce

Reuters / Kevork Djansezian

Reuters / Kevork Djansezian

In a move that could have ramifications for domestic anti-terrorism efforts, US House Speaker John Boehner said he would let funding for the Department of Homeland Security lapse on Feb. 27 in order to reverse Obama’s immigration reform actions.

House Republicans have passed a Homeland Security appropriations
bill, but it is contingent upon defunding Obama’s 2012 and

2014 executive orders
that negated the threat of deportation
for an estimated five million undocumented immigrants seeking
refuge in the United States.

In the Senate, Democrats have blocked the House funding bill
three times, calling for “clean” DHS-funding legislation
that would maintain Obama’s immigration orders. Obama, meanwhile,
has threatened to veto the House measure.

“Senate Democrats are the ones standing in the way,” Speaker
Boehner told Fox News on Sunday. “They’re the ones jeopardizing

Would he let the department’s funding expire? “Certainly,”
Boehner answered. “The House has acted. We’ve done our job.”

In the Senate, however, Republicans do not seem as headstrong
about playing with DHS funding to defeat the immigration orders.

“The American people did not give us majority to have a fight
between House and Senate Republicans,”
Arizona Sen. John
McCain said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ in reference to last
November’s midterm election. “They want things done. You cannot
cut funding from the Department of Homeland Security. We need to
sit down and work this thing out.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week
that the Upper Chamber was “stuck” and that it was up to the
House to make the next move.

Despite this supposedly critical juncture, Congress is
taking this week off
, meaning lawmakers will have Feb. 24-27
to settle on DHS funding before its expiration.

Who goes to work without funding?

Funding expiration would affect some Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) services, but not front-line airport or border
security, according to reports.

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,
Reuters reported.

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
relief execution.

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.

About 30,000 employees 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 Reuters.

In addition, E-Verify, a citizenship and visa database used in
hiring processes, would not be active.

DHS secretary Jeh Johnson
has said
an agency shutdown would negatively affect
investments in border security and geospatial intelligence
operations, as well as the “more aggressive
by immigration and customs officials of
criminal organizations involved in drug, cyber, and human
trafficking crimes.

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.

READ MORE: Obama administration tells agents to
find immigrants who should not be deported

Under the executive order Obama
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

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

“The House has acted to de-fund the department and to stop
the president’s overreach when it comes to immigration and his
executive orders,”
Boehner said on Sunday.

“The Congress just can’t sit by and let the president defy
the Constitution and defy his own his oath of office.”

House Democrats countered that the shutdown would threaten
Americans’ safety.

“With only four legislative days left until the Republican
Homeland Security Shutdown, Speaker Boehner made it clear that he
has no plan to avoid a government shutdown that would threaten
the safety of the American people,”
Drew Hammill, spokesman
for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, told Reuters.

“The speaker’s reliance on talking points and finger-pointing
was a sad reflection of the fact that (the) Tea Party continues
to hold the gavel as they insist on their futile anti-immigrant

MORE: House votes to avoid govt shutdown, passes $1trn spending

The White House awaits a bill, but Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis
McDonough told CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday that he doesn’t
“see exactly how Congress is going to resolve this.”

In October
, a similar, albeit larger, budget faceoff between
Republicans and Democrats caused the the majority of the US
government to shutdown for 16 days, putting nearly one million
workers on mandatory leave. Yet, as is Washington’s custom with
its increasingly-frequent budget imbroglios, an eleventh hour
agreement spared a potentially damaging debt default.

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