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Where The Government Shutdown Is Hitting Americans The Hardest

A closed sign is displayed at The National Archives entrance in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. A high-stakes move to reopen the government will be the first big battle between Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump as Democrats come into control of the House. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
A closed sign is displayed at The National Archives entrance in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. A high-stakes move to reopen the government will be the first big battle between Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump as Democrats come into control of the House. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The government shutdown drags on. We’ll examine if there’s a deal on the horizon, and check in with real people affected by the shutdown.


Julie Burr, administrative assistant with the Department of Transportation in Kansas City, Missouri. She’s a contract worker employed by a third party, not a direct federal employee, which means she likely won’t receive any back pay. ( @juliedotburr)

Lisa Desjardins, correspondent for the PBS Newshour. ( @LisaDNews)

Aaron Payment, tribal chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Heidi Burakiewicz, lead attorney in a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Government Employees ( @AFGENational). The lawsuit alleges the partial government shutdown is illegally forcing hundreds of thousands of “essential” or “excepted” employees to work without pay.

‘People Just Don’t Understand The Reality On The Ground’: Thoughts On The Wall From A Former Border Patrol Agent

During our hour on the government shutdown, Leon, from Detroit, Michigan, called in to talk about the issue at the heart of the government shutdown: the wall.

Immigration and border security have come to define partisan deadlock in the government, and the specific questions of whether or not a border wall would be moral, feasible or effective dominate the headlines.

Leon, a former border patrol agent for about 10 years, shared his perspective.

“The extreme positions on each side, and I think that the issue with anything regarding immigration is such a radioactive topic, and people stake out positions on two kind of far axes of the topic, one being the far extreme of everybody coming into the U.S. is a law-abiding-citizen that’s just here looking for a better life and there’s no criminal aspect of it whatsoever. And then obviously the far-right extreme, that they are ISIS members, and everybody in the groups are MS-13. And the truth is really somewhere in the middle.

“I was a border patrol agent for about 10 years, and I’ve seen all aspects of it. All aspects of humanity are people trying to enter the country. Obviously doing so illegal, but there are groups of people just like anywhere else that you encounter. So the issue for I think the politicians as well is that you have a lot of people commenting on this and deciding policy that doesn’t really have the expertise and don’t really have that ground-truth in what the real issues are on the border.”

Does the wall make sense?

“I think the wall makes sense. There are forces at the border, especially in places like Arizona and California, where the wall has had tremendous impact. Again, people are not understanding what the wall really does and what it means. It’s not just to 100 percent prevent entry in that point. What the wall does is it takes areas of the border that don’t have natural boundaries and barriers like rivers and mountains and terrain that makes it impassable, and it puts that wall barrier there where you can’t just drive a vehicle across.

“Now, that wall creates a barrier in that specific area which then forces traffic to be funneled to areas where infrastructure and border patrol agents and other technology can be in a place where apprehension rates can go up. So I think the misconception is that if we build a Great Wall of China from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, that that will somehow completely eradicate all illegal immigration. I don’t think anyone is advocating for that. I don’t even think the President is.

But President Trump has explicitly said he wants 1,000 miles of wall.

“When you get a thousand miles of wall, you’re considering 3,000 miles of southern border. Again, in places where the wall makes sense, areas like San Diego sector and Tucson sector, they have seen a dramatic decrease, and now we’re you’re seeing the highest entry rates along the southern border are places like south Texas and Rio Grande Valley, and again, there is very limited border wall there because the natural barrier’s considered to be the river.

“But there are places where you can walk across that river because it’s ankle-deep. So again, this is what I’m talking about, where people that are commenting on this topic on both the press and a lot of politicians, people just don’t understand the reality on the ground. They’ve never been to the areas. They’ve never actually worked those areas. They don’t understand how border enforcement actually works. For that conversation to have real tangible effects on the American population, I think you need people that are actually in the know being involved and helping.”

From The Reading List

PBS NewsHour: “ 5 reasons why this shutdown is worse for federal workers” — “Politicians have argued that the current government shutdown is less disruptive than past shutdowns because just nine of 15 cabinet agencies — and approximately 15 percent of federal civilian workers — have been affected.

“But this still leaves some 800,000 federal workers unsure of when they will get another paycheck, and an unknown number of federal contractors, who work for private companies but are paid to complete specific projects by the government, with no pay and without any indication it will ever be made up.

“The PBS NewsHour reached out to dozens of those workers and contractors, and many said that for them, this shutdown is actually worse than past shutdowns. Below are quotes from some of the people we interviewed. We verified their identities but in some cases allowed them to remain anonymous, or only identified them by their social media handles, because they fear reprisals at work for speaking with the media.”

New York Times: “ Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country” — “For one tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the government shutdown comes with a price tag: about $100,000, every day, of federal money that does not arrive to keep health clinics staffed, food pantry shelves full and employees paid.

“The tribe is using its own funds to cover the shortfalls for now. But if the standoff in Washington continues much longer, that stopgap money will be depleted. Later this month, workers could be furloughed and health services could be pared back. ‘Everything,’ said Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, ‘is on the table.’

“For many Americans who are not federal workers or contractors, a shutdown is a minor inconvenience. A trip to a national park may be canceled. A call to a government office may go unanswered. But for Native American tribes, which rely heavily on federal money to operate, a shutdown can cripple their most basic functions.

“All across Indian Country, the federal shutdown slices deep. Generations ago, tribes negotiated treaties with the United States government guaranteeing funds for services like health care and education in exchange for huge swaths of territory.”

The Hill: “ Federal workers union sues Trump admin over government shutdown” — “One of the country’s largest unions representing federal workers is suing the Trump administration over the government shutdown, claiming that it is illegal to require employees to work without pay.

“The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union released a statement on Monday announcing its lawsuit as the shutdown stretches past a week.

“The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleges that the federal government is in violation of the law by requiring some federal workers, many of which are represented by the union, to work without pay during the shutdown.”

Washington Post: “ Federal workers — in a panic about their pay — apply for unemployment” — “As they get closer to missing their first paycheck of the new year, many federal employees are filing for unemployment benefits to tide them over during the government shutdown.

“Even if a deal is reached quickly to reopen the shuttered agencies, workers probably won’t get a paycheck until mid-January or later.

“So what’s a worker to do?

“In Maryland, the total number of federal employees who filed unemployment claims as of Jan. 2 was 637, according to the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation. One of those filers is Zachary Levine, a 63-year-old physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who is still awaiting approval for his claim.

“In the past, following previous government shutdowns, workers were given back pay. However, Congress isn’t required to do this, so Levine said he filed for unemployment as a strategic move to preserve his savings.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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