FBI Agents: Shutdown Threatens National Security

FBI Agents: Shutdown Threatens National Security

January 20, 2019 - The government closure has pushed workers into hardship – and weakened the very immigration system it was meant to bolster

Briana Libby is not a federal employee, and she is not into politics. She lives 2,500 miles from the US border with Mexico, where Donald Trump has demanded funds for a wall in exchange for ending the partial government shutdown.

Nonetheless, the shutdown has hit Libby, 26, with devastating force. A mother of two daughters aged four and six, she was on the verge of buying her first home in southern Maine when the shutdown happened.

A $200,000 mortgage Libby had negotiated with the support of the US department of agriculture was supposed to close on Friday. But with the shutdown, the loan program has ground to a halt. Meanwhile her landlord has found a new tenant, and Libby, a payroll specialist at a healthcare organization, fears becoming homeless.

“My loan officer is pretty confident that at this point, closing in January is not an option at all, and we need to be out of our home at the end of the month,” Libby said. “So my option is packing up all of my stuff, finding a storage unit and sleeping on my mom’s living room floor until I can get into my home.

“It’s going to be difficult, especially for my kids.”

As the longest shutdown in US history enters its fifth week, the waves of havoc it has created are crashing ever further outward, threatening essential government functions and introducing unexpected hardships in the lives of millions of Americans.

Crucial climate change monitoring and research has halted. Unpaid Coast Guard enlistees have had to turn to food banks to feed their families. Asylum seekers who have already waited years for an immigration court hearing now have to wait years longer. Theater workers and stage actors are threatened by an interruption in arts funding. Corrections officers can’t buy gas to get to work. Inmates say basic services are falling apart. Some federal employees have had to tap into their retirement plans.

For those employees required to work without a paycheck because their roles are deemed essential, the pressure is intense, said Clifton Buchanan, a bureau of prisons corrections officer and union executive from Houston, Texas.

“Last night I got a disturbing call that one of my officers attempted suicide,” Buchanan said.

“Not having gas, not having food – I have staff that are contemplating quitting to go find another job. We’re already short-staffed.

“It’s not a joke that we’re working for free.”

Inside Washington, the shutdown has in part played out as a political circus: Trump serving 300 hamburgers on silver platters to a visiting college football team; members of Congress stuck on a tour bus after Trump, at the last minute, canceled their overseas trip; the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, telling Trump to delay his planned State of the Union Address; angry letters sent back and forth between the White House and Capitol Hill.

But each day, terrible new costs of the political deadlock emerge. Federal employees claiming unemployment benefits jumped to 10,000 in the first week of the year, according to labor department figures – double the number from the previous week.

Economists in Trump’s own White House estimate that for each week it lasts, the shutdown cuts 0.1 % from economic growth projections. The vice-president of the air traffic controllers union told CNN about air travel, “I would say it is less safe today than it was a month ago, absolutely.”

According to a Syracuse University data tracking program, the shutdown has derailed more than 60,000 immigration cases and counting, said federal judge Amiena Khan, speaking in her capacity as executive vice-president of the National Association of Immigration Judges union. Because immigration courts are already over-scheduled, delayed cases probably get bumped to the “end of the line” – which probably means the end of 2021, almost three years away.

“These are human beings that we deal with in immigration court on a daily basis,” Khan said. “These are life-and-death decisions for many individuals.”

Ironically, given that Trump’s desire to eject and ban immigrants is driving the shutdown, some immigrants whose claims of asylum are without merit have been in effect granted a years-long reprieve by the shutdown.

“It shows a high level of dysfunction,” Khan said.

The shutdown has threatened to weaken the country’s immigration system in other ways. Border officers are among those working without pay, as are enlistees in the US Coast Guard, an essential part of immigration enforcement that last year recorded an almost fivefold increase in the number of migrants it intercepted off the coast of southern California.

Yet some Coast Guard families have faced food emergencies and other crises because of the shutdown, said Katie Walvatne, 34, president of the south-east Connecticut Coast Guard Spouses Association.

Walvatne, whose husband has served in the Coast Guard for more than 15 years, recently helped to open a food bank for enlisted families and other federal workers at the US Coast Guard academy in New London, Connecticut.

“We just realized that families are going to need something so that they can put groceries in their pantries,” Walvatne said.

“I have been there each day, and there’s always a steady stream of people coming in. And it’s everybody. It’s not just active duty.”

Walvatne said the community’s sense of solidarity had ameliorated some of the difficulty of the situation.

“For as much anxiety and stress as we’re having right now with this whole shutdown, the community – both active duty and not – has just been amazing,” she said.

Elsewhere, the shutdown has interrupted basic government functions, such as processing tax returns, providing food assistance and supporting low-income housing. Arts organizations dependent on grants from the National Endowment for the Arts aren’t receiving promised funds for 2019 – and any grant submissions for 2020 cannot be processed, according to the Actors’ Equity Association union.

The shutdown also has severely impeded scientists’ ability to monitor and research climate change data, said Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers union, whose members work at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nasa and elsewhere.

“Even all the way down to weather satellites, a lot of that information is just not being – is not available because those people are out,” Shearon said. Some important field work, such as identifying toxins and conducting cleanup in the wake of last November’s fatal wildfires in California, has been suspended or slowed – or employees are conducting the dangerous job without pay.

“People are starting to go into their 401(k) plans to pay for rent, to pay regular bills.” Shearon said. “There are huge penalties that are involved in touching that 401(k) plan – that’s pretty dramatic.”

Back in southern Maine, Briana Libby reflected on how close she had come to securing a piece of the American dream, which she hopes might still be hers.

“It’s supposed to be a happy, exciting thing – but we are in fear of being homeless,” she said.

Asked whether the experience had affected her political views, Libby said, “I don’t really pay too much attention to politics, to be honest. I never was a Trump supporter, but I also don’t really put my nose into it too much because, I just don’t.

“But I think he’s making a fool of our country by doing this. I think it’s embarrassing for our country.”

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