national park

The impact of the government shutdown

As I’m writing this article, we are 24 days, 1 hour, 24 minutes and 51 seconds into the government shutdown. Currently, about 850,000 federal employees are either indefinitely working without pay or being furloughed.

Each year, Congress proposes a spending bill, which funds services such as the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the National Parks Foundation and much more. The president has to approve the spending bill, but if he doesn’t, the government is in “shutdown” mode. President Donald Trump refused to pass the 2019 budget after Congress refused to appropriate $5.7 billion for a wall between the United States and Mexico. On the other hand, Democrats refuse to pass a bill that includes funding for the wall. Trump and Republicans who support him should reopen the government, allow workers to receive compensation and then discuss border security.

Federal employees are definitely feeling the effects of the shutdown. They comprise 25 percent of the workforce; of the 850,000, 420,000 “essential personnel” must report to work without pay while the rest are furloughed (crfb.org). Considering that 78 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, hundreds of thousands are suffering right now (Washington Post). Many unpaid employees are forced to live off credit or take on extra jobs. Some have spouses and children to support. Why would somebody want to report to work and put in his/her best effort when there’s no compensation? The 850,000 likely feel worried and uncertain, maybe quit their federal job and find a new one. In a job in which employees receive some of the lowest pay grades and highest attrition rates, it’s logical to believe that quality of service would deteriorate.

On the other hand Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Congress are receiving paychecks. Pence and a select few have even received pay raises as high as $10,000 (Washington Post). While cash flows one way, care of national parks and monuments have been neglected. Many venues are closed indefinitely whereas those that remain open, such as Joshua Tree National Park, are overflowing with trash and human waste. Coast Guard officers are also not receiving pay and, coincidentally, are seeing a surge of sea-borne illegal migrants during the shutdown. The Environmental Protection Agency has stopped or delayed about 2,000 water or toxic waste inspections. Environmental and health safeguards that we, as a country, have worked so hard to create and preserve are now desecrated or inoperable. Millions are essentially at risk.

Any president, Trump or not, should not be allowed to hold a government shutdown. The tactic is comparable to a child throwing a temper tantrum. Giving in to the child (or president) reinforcing his/her behavior erratic behavior. In fact, when asked by reporters on his opinion of unpaid federal workers, Trump appears to deflect the questions and reassert his claim that he is trying to promote national security.

However, the Democrats, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, do not want to fund the wall, calling it ineffective. They wish to first reopen the government before discussing border security, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Have a little heart, help the people and then work out your differences.

Supporters of Trump claim that Democrats wanted a wall in 2006. This argument is no longer valid because times have changed. Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006, which was endorsed by top Democrats such as Hillary Clinton. The legislation called for 700 miles of “tactical” fencing, drones, and other surveillance tools. On the other hand, Trump’s 2000 mile concrete or steel wall spans across the entire U.S.-Mexico border. In 2006, the U.S. was facing record amounts of illegal immigration; an estimated 12.2 million illegal immigrants were in the U.S. and 1 million were detained at the border. In 2016, the Customs and Border Patrol says illegal immigration has dropped to about 440,000 (factcheck.org; ice.gov). The migrant and illegal alien issue is not as dramatic as the crisis Trump claims it to be.

Sure, a strong, tall physical barrier may deter illegal immigrants, but many have found other means of getting to the U.S. Currently, the Coast Guard (whose members are working without pay), are reporting five times as many migrant intercepts in Southern California during 2018 (Washington Post). In addition, immigrants and drug traffickers have been shown to build improvised ramps to drive vehicles over barriers or dig mile-long tunnels deep under the border. There is no definite method to stopping all illegal immigration. They will find a way above, below or across the border.

People are forced to work without pay. Their job security, bills, mortgages, etc. are uncertain. The sanitation and beauty of national parks are deteriorating (despite the best effort of volunteers). Is the wall really effective and necessary in 2019? No, it’s not. So let’s end this shutdown now.

By Phillip Leung, Print editor-in-chief 
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 


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