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Republican efforts to fund the Department of Homeland Security while gutting President Barack Obama’s immigration actions failed to advance in the Senate this week, threatening to partially shutter the agency charged with protecting the country from its most serious threats.
Though leaders in both parties have expressed confidence that a deal will be reached before appropriations lapse on Feb. 27, Congress remains at a stalemate with no signs of a compromise in sight.
So what would it mean if the government stopped funding Homeland Security at the end of the month?
Americans will still be screened before boarding airplanes, terror threats will continue to be monitored, and the borders will still be guarded. That’s what happened during the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 and what officials say would happen this time around. That’s because 85 percent of Homeland Security employees are deemed essential and will continue working.
85 percent of Homeland Security employees would continue working without pay if the department shutdown.
In fact, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which plays a key role in implementing the executive actions at the center of the budget battle, is supported by fees and would go largely unscathed by a lapse in funding.
That’s not to say the country would be completely numb to what would happens if the government stops paying for one of its most important agencies.
“To even contemplate a shutdown means contemplating cutting back on things that are vital to Homeland Security and causing terrible disruption with the American public right now,” Secretary Jeh Johnson warned.
Efforts put into place after the Sept. 11 attacks to help coordinate and improve communication in the field would be significantly impacted, Homeland Security spokesperson Marsha Catron said.
Law enforcement training would cease, which includes civil rights and civil liberties training. And during the last shutdown civil rights and civil liberties complaint lines and investigations were suspended.
A department shutdown would also mean a delay in hiring additional Secret Service agents for the 2016 presidential election and that E-Verify, the system that allows business owners to check if a potential hire is eligible to work in the U.S., would stop functioning.
Particularly troublesome to local communities could be the impact a funding lapse would have on grants. The department helps fund first responders in all 50 states, along with supporting additional equipment and security personnel throughout the country. A prolonged funding hiatus could eliminate some of the jobs dependent on those grants.
And though the majority of the public may not feel much of the impact of a Homeland Security shutdown, those who work to keep the country safe would not be paid until the dispute is resolved.
“The vast majority of our personnel…rely on biweekly paychecks to support themselves and their families,” Catron said.
On top of it all, simply having to operate one of the country’s most important departments under the threat of running out of money in a matter of weeks leads to uncertainty, which impacts Homeland Security’s ability to respond to new threats and natural disasters.
“A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security in these times is frankly too bitter to contemplate, but we have to contemplate it,” Johnson said.