Government Shutdown, The Wall, and a National Emergency

Tessa Zink, Staff Writer

Beginning December 22, 2018, through January 25, 2019, the United States federal government was shut down making it the longest shutdown at 35 days. The government shutdown began because President Donald Trump demanded $5.7 billion dollars to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. At the start of his presidential campaign, the border wall was one of the key elements he had promised to his voters. In an immigration policy speech given in Phoenix, Arizona during his campaign for president in 2016, Donald Trump said, “we will build a great wall along the southern border and Mexico will pay for the wall.” After, Mexican leaders refused to pay for it and is, therefore, insisting the U.S. Government give $5.7 billion dollars to fund it. Donald Trump claims the wall will provide security from illegal immigrants he views as “rapists” and “criminals” and stop the flow of drugs. By building the wall, President Trump believes that they will be able to defend the United States from illegal immigrants and protect the U.S. citizens.

In the debate against the wall, Democrats stood firm against the wall funding as they view it unnecessary as border crossing rates have consistently decreased over the past twenty years. Additionally, the reason for 40% of undocumented immigrants has overstayed visas. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) views the wall as ineffective and costly saying, “I can’t think of any reason why anyone would think it’s a good idea.” These differences in views created budget funding disagreements, overall leading to the government shutdown.

The federal fiscal year starts on October 1 by then most of the government budget has been agreed on. From October 1 through December 21 government officials work to find an agreement with the rest of the budget, specifically whether to fund the wall. This shutdown was considered partial because most departments and agencies have already been granted funding.

During a shutdown, government workers are considered either essential or non- essential. Non-essential elements stopped, and the workers are sent home without pay. Essential elements, like TSA workers and law enforcement employees such as the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and personnel, must continue to work without pay. The shutdown caused 9 federal departments and agencies to close, 420,000 government employees were forced to work with no pay, and 380,000 were furloughed (time off work with no pay). The government shutdown threatened the lives of many federal workers and those who benefit from government programs.

The government shutdown did not only affect government employees but also many United States citizens, including those who live in Seattle. Most National Parks were closed, others remained open because of funding given by state governments and tourist boards. Earthquake monitoring in Washington and Oregon were on hold as engineers from the Pacific Seismic Network were furloughed. The engineers focused on repairing sensors, monitoring for earthquakes, and research stopped their work. 2,000 federal employees at Sea-Tac were without paychecks. Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps will continue to be affected for months after the shutdown. Those who are recently unemployed and qualify for SNAP will have to wait weeks until they can receive their benefits, which could be harmful to families in need.

            After being shut down for 35 days, President Trump agreed to reopen the federal government for three weeks. While government officials continue the discussion about border security the reopening will help the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or forced to work with no pay. On February 15, 2019, President Trump declared a national emergency to build a wall along the southern border. A president can declare a national emergency under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The law grants the president special abilities by temporarily enhancing their power to “deal with any unusual and extraordinary threat.” He plans to redirect funds to pay for the border wall. In his declaration of a national emergency, President Trump states, “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” In a national emergency, Congress and the Supreme Court can modify, limit or revoke the “special powers” given to the president. Democrats have created a resolution in an attempt to stop the national emergency and are asking for support from Members of Congress to pursue it.