In Case of Shutdown, Most Border Security Staffers Would Keep Working
DHS would keep about 88 percent of its on-board staff during funding lapse
The two federal agencies tasked with enforcing President Donald Trump’s evolving immigration policies wouldn’t be hamstrung in the event of a partial shutdown of government operations, which is perhaps partly why the president has said repeatedly he’d be just fine with that outcome.
“If we don’t get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown,” Trump said Monday during a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Trump also tweeted out a similar threat Sunday, which came as a surprise to many after a meeting last week between the president, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan appeared to yield a tentative decision to punt a divisive fight over border wall funding until after the November elections.
The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, after which agencies without enacted appropriations would have to cease operations — unless considered necessary for the protection of human life or property. Those are categories that all but about 12 percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s workforce would be included within in the event of a partial shutdown.
Watch: Standing Next to Conte, Trumps Says He’ll ‘Consider’ Shutdown Over Border Policy
Regardless of how long a funding lapse were to last, most of the staff at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection would keep working. That’s because border security programs, ports of entry operations, immigrations enforcement and removal operations, and ICE enforcement of homeland security investigations are all exempt from the furloughs that would affect other agencies and even some other department staff.
Customs and Border Protection is responsible for protecting the country’s borders from “dangerous people and materials” while ICE enforces federal immigration laws and trade. In total, during a partial shutdown about 54,000 of CBP’s 59,000 employees, or 91 percent, would continue to report to work, according to DHS guidelines issued in March. ICE would be able to keep about 16,000 of its 19,700 employees on hand, or 81 percent.
Those high rates are standard for many of the agencies within DHS, which would keep about 212,000 employees out of its 242,000, or just under 88 percent of its on-board staff during a funding lapse.
A small group of activities in Homeland Security that are funded from fees or multiyear appropriations wouldn’t be impacted by a shutdown, including most operations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees legal immigration and guest-worker visa programs.
One area that may cause some frustration within the two agencies is that employees working through the shutdown aren’t supposed to receive their paychecks until after the government reopens. Employees who are furloughed during the shutdown also have a degree of uncertainty around whether they’ll receive back pay after the shutdown ends.
Stirring the pot
For now, the probability of a funding lapse remains low, despite Trump stirring the pot this weekend with a tweet.
“I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!” he wrote Sunday.
His comments were vague and didn’t indicate whether he would force the issue in September, or during the lame-duck session of Congress. But GOP leaders are itching to avoid a shutdown starting Oct. 1 — just five weeks before the midterm elections — and Trump himself wants to ensure smooth sailing for confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Ryan and McConnell on Wednesday discussed with Trump their plan to send him several spending bills in September as well as a stopgap spending bill to fund part of the government into the new fiscal year. But the fiscal 2019 Homeland Security bill is unlikely to be signed into law before the elections.
“As far as the wall is concerned, we’ve gotten some wall funding already underway,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “That is being funded. But I think it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. And the president’s willing to be patient to make sure that we get what we need so that we can get that done, because border security’s extremely important.”
It’s unclear how dedicated Trump is to forcing the shutdown issue — either in September or in the lame-duck session. “I’ll always leave room for negotiation,” Trump said at the Monday news conference. “I have no red line. … I just want great border security.”