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American Shipper

Congressional showdown on immigration threatens DHS funding

Important functions, initiatives at CBP, other agencies will be curtailed without appropriation bill.

   Funding for the Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to run out on Friday as Republicans in Congress try to use the appropriation process to roll back President Obama’s November executive order granting legal status to about 5 million undocumented immigrants. That will lead to a partial government shutdown in which “non-essential” personnel would be furloughed and the remaining 80 percent of the department, including airport screeners, Border Patrol agents and Customs officers, would be required to work without pay.
   In a YouTube video, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said a shutdown would still jeopardize the nation’s economic and national security. CBP is the second largest collector of revenue after the IRS and all support personnel that process trade, such as import specialists, would be sent home. Personnel that issue reimbursement checks would also stop working, which means businesses would face delays getting money they are due.
   The agency would not be able to replace outdated equipment, such as X-ray equipment for screening cargo at ports of entry, Kerlikowske said.
   Forcing employees to work without pay would put them in a position of financial hardship and create long-term morale problems, he said. And all training of new employees would have to cease, which would delay putting new resources on the front lines. The taxpayer would also foot the bill to transport enrollees home and back again when funding resumes.
   Last year, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through September, but Republicans only allowed the Department of Homeland Security to be funded temporarily through a continuing resolution because they wanted to use the funding as leverage on the immigration issue. The House has passed a DHS bill that completely reverses the President Obama’s actions. Republicans in the Senate don’t have enough votes to pass the same bill, with Democrats blocking it four times. 
   Republican leaders promised no more government shutdowns after taking control in January and the showdown comes as concerns are raised about potential attacks from ISIS sympathizers similar to the recent one in Paris. News reports from the nation’s capital indicate that House and Senate leaders are now considering another short-term funding extension and separating it from an immigration bill in an effort to avoid political blame for shutting down the government and jeopardizing security. Republican senators such as John McCain argue that the party cannot afford to shut down DHS.
   Some political observers say a Texas district judge’s recent decision to block the Obama immigration order could provide political cover to let DHS funding go through, although the Obama administration is appealing the ruling.
   DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and others are warning that a continuing resolution would still be damaging because the department cannot start new programs, award multi-year contracts, deploy new technology, issue grants or do anything that changes the carry-over budget. It also makes it difficult to work with private sector contractors because of the funding uncertainty.

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