Staying true to his unwavering stance on allocating $5 billion towards a border wall, President Trump, alongside bringing the government to a partial shutdown, has also issued an executive order that freezes the pay of federal civilian workers in 2019. The pay freeze adds to the blow that federal workers are already facing right now due to the shutdown —– nearly 800,000 workers are furloughed, but some essential services, such as the TSA, have employees working without getting paid.
The heart of this whole shutdown is the impasse within the government over whether or not to fund the border wall, which seemed to be the headlining subject of Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump tweeted out on Jan. 2 that the wall was already under construction, which confused lawmakers, as the reason behind the shutdown is disagreement over whether or not to fund the wall. Also included in the tweet was the false statement that Mexico was paying for it through the revised NAFTA trade pact, but one must consider the fact that Trump is still demanding $5 billion from the government to finance the wall.
Whatever reasons Trump may have for this obsession with building a wall, whether he genuinely thinks it will be the most effective solution to illegal immigration, or if he just wants to save face in front of his supporters whom he so loudly promoted this wall to, compromise must come about before more economic and security issues surface from the longevity of this shutdown. In terms of compromise, Trump faces a potential loss in political popularity if he gives up the promise of a wall, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t swallow his pride and consider the window to negotiations Democrats are opening for him.
However, President Trump’s meeting with Democratic congressional leaders on Jan. 2 was unsuccessful in terms of reopening the government, but the meeting highlights his bigger concern in losing his base if he were to ultimately let go of the budget proposal for the wall. Senator Charles Schumer claimed that President Trump “could not give a good answer” as to why the government shutdown had to continue in the midst of their debate about homeland security. As to a proposal about reopening the government while the two sides continued to debate about this issue, Trump rejected the idea, responding, “I would look foolish if I did that.”
Trump’s unwillingness to reopen the government, despite suggestions from congressional leaders to do so, displays unnecessary stubbornness on the president’s part and brings into questions whether this wall has even become about keeping the American people safe like he claims. On Jan. 4, President Trump even expressed that he was willing to keep the government partially shutdown for “months or even a year” if it meant that in the end he could get the budget required to fund the wall. We must keep in mind that this fight for the wall doesn’t necessarily need to include the now-suspended living wages of nearly a million federal workers, but it does, and this adds to the idea that perhaps this wall dispute isn’t exactly a battle for the American people, but for personal agendas.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is potentially the most vital pool of federal workers, and due to their importance, they are one of the categories of federal workers who must continue to work through this shutdown without pay. However, just this last week at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, 170 TSA employees have called in sick every day. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, sick calls have increased by 200-300 percent.
These increases follow the trend of TSA officials missing their first paycheck cycle, and union officials are reporting that some TSA agents have left to try and find a job that will pay in order to make ends meet. While this drop in employees at the airport isn’t currently indicative of a major threat to airport security, veteran TSA officials listed some other potential effects including fewer random pat downs, giving expedited screenings and longer wait times.
Going back to Trump’s statement about preparing to prolong this shutdown to months or even a year if he absolutely had to: at the press conference where he confirmed having made this statement, he reiterated that this shutdown was about him “wanting a safe country.” However, if his primary concern is truly about having a safer country, this is contradictory to the possible long-term effects of a lengthened shutdown. TSA agents are already starting to abandon their job to find paying opportunities. And though things are still relatively stable right now, if Trump is truly planning on following through with his plan to drag on the shutdown as long as he finds sufficient, we may witness a sizable decline in the quality of airport security protocol, thus introducing a new possible homeland security threat.
Furthermore, illegal immigration itself (the justification for Trump’s wall) has hit all time lows in Trump’s presidency. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, April 2017 witnessed the lowest rate of illegal immigration since George W. Bush’s presidency. While the numbers have since increased to levels similar to those under President Barack Obama, the average rate of apprehensions at the border by month under Trump’s presidency (28,869) is still lower than that of Obama’s (34,647) and Bush’s (81,588).
Therefore, to demand a wall in this era would not make logical or economic sense, as it’s not as prevalent of an issue as it once was. Even if it were currently at rates more similar to Bush’s, building a wall is an unproductive solution to a problem that begins at the very incorrect assumption that every illegal immigrant has a negative association with gang activity and violence.
With neither side willing to budge on the deadlock the government is currently in, it’s completely unpredictable when or how this entire ordeal will end. It’s unlikely the shutdown will continue for a time span as long as a year, but in all the ways this shutdown can end, an economically sound resolution should come around before government workers feel the worsened impacts of having limited opportunities to find pay.