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The Government Shutdown is Bad Public Policy

By Roberto Valdez Jr, Latino Policy Forum, Communications & Development Coordinator

The government shutdown is now two weeks long and has affected over 800,000 federal employees across the United States. One of those workers is my father, who has put in 34 years as a customs agent in the Department of Homeland Security. This is the third major shutdown that he has weathered. In 1996, under President Bill Clinton, he was without pay for 21 days, and again in 2013 under President Barack Obama, 16 days. Notice I stated, “without pay.” That’s because he still showed up every day on time for work, despite not getting a paycheck.

Regardless of political party or affiliation, it’s hard to ignore the political motive behind this current shutdown – the president standing ground on a campaign promise to build a border wall. But campaign promises don’t necessarily equate to sound public policy, and on this issue, shutting down affects vital public services. In other words, the ends don’t justify the means.

Let’s look at the immediate effect the shutdown has already caused; tens of thousands of federal employees having to work without pay.  These are dedicated, hard-working people like my father, who make an honest paycheck for honest work. Many of my dad’s colleagues are living paycheck to paycheck, anyway, and this turn creates a financial burden that has some scrambling to find ways to pay their rents or mortgages and other essential bills, not to mention putting food on their tables.

A down-the-road effect of the shutdown will be delays in tax returns and a reduction in vital social service programs. Approximately 38 million Americans could face reductions in food stamps and over $140 million in tax refunds are at risk of being delayed or frozen if the shutdown continues into February. The shutdown not only affects federal employees, but it hurts other Americans as well.

Possibly the most ironic part about this entire shutdown is an increased backlog of immigration court cases.  Because of the government shutdown, over 400 immigration judges have been furloughed causing the backlog to grow to 1.1 million. The current administration emphasizes that our country’s immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, yet this shutdown has contributed to one of the largest issues at hand. Our national security is also being threatened with the large reported TSA agents calling in sick.

Then there’s the reason behind the shutdown: Billions of dollars to pay for a medieval solution to a complex problem, building a wall and hiding behind it. Unfortunately, that reasoning is flawed and nonsensical, not to mention it’s taking aim at a problem that doesn’t really exist. In a 2017 report produced by the Department of Homeland Security, illegal crossings at the border dropped 90 percent and shows that more than half of undocumented people in the U.S. arrived here via plane or car, checking in with customs agents like my father, and then went on to overstay their visas. In addition, apprehensions along the southwest border are at a 10-year low.

Building a wall also does nothing to solve the problem of drugs being shipped into the U.S., because cartels have the money to devise other ways to get their products into our country.  

If the President and Congress cannot come to an agreement, regarding the right path to help secure our border and for our national interests, then Americans should press them to consider those dedicated federal workers who are showing up to their posts every day and not getting paid.  They, like my father, are essentially being locked out by our leaders, but still expected to work or be fired.