Stuck over a Wall

The longest shutdown in American history may return from Feb 15 if President Trump does not get funds for the border wall with Mexico 

By Author  |  Published: 27th Jan 2019  12:12 amUpdated: 26th Jan 2019  10:52 pm

President Donald Trump finally blinked. On Friday, he temporarily called off the longest government shutdown in US history while backing off from his insistence on immediate funding for wall construction on the Mexican border. But the reprieve is at the most for three weeks as he threatened a new shutdown or a state of emergency, if there is no breakthrough in getting the $5.7 billion in border wall funds in the next three weeks“This was in no way a concession,” Trump said in a tweet late Friday, fending off critics who wanted him to keep fighting. “It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”The shutdown ended as Democratic leaders insisted that the government must reopen first and then about talk border security.

“The President thought he could crack Democrats, and he didn’t, and I hope it’s a lesson for him,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of her members: “Our unity is our power. And that is what may be the President underestimated.”As border talks resume, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes there will be “good faith negotiations over the next three weeks to try to resolve our differences.” Schumer said that while Democrats oppose the wall money, they agree on other ways to secure the border “and that bodes well for coming to an eventual agreement.”

Adamant as Wall

Donald Trump and congressional Democrats were stuck in a negotiation stalemate that prevented an end to the nearly 34-day government shutdown. Trump wants a wall, and demands that Congress set aside $5.7 billion but Democratic leaders Pelosi and Schumer refused to support funding for a physical barrier. The partial shutdown has affected about 8,00,000 government employees, who are either furloughed or working without pay since December 22.Economists estimate that every week of shutdown reduces growth by 0.13 percentage point, meaning the economy has already taken a hit of half a percent. Another week of shutdown would have seen the total costs exceed $6 billion, which is more than what the President’s demand for the wall. Trump insists that the border barrier would stop heroin entering the US from Mexico. “Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of which floods across from our southern border,” Trump said in a speech about US-Mexico border security. In a tweet, he added: “These numbers will be drastically reduced if we have a wall!”

Multiple Channels

But US statistics, analysts and ongoing testimony at the New York City trial of drug kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman show that most hard drugs entering the US from Mexico come through land border crossings staffed by agents, not open sections of the border.”We’ve been gradually beefing up physical barriers along the border for 20 years and have not seen any demonstrable difference in drug flows,” said David Shirk, a University of San Diego professor who specialises in US-Mexico relations and border politics. “Drugs come through many ways that are not stopped by a wall, whether it’s by boat, submersible, tunnel, catapult, drone.”The southwestern US border “remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States,” states the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 Drug Threat Assessment. It says most of its heroin seizures on the border are at official crossings called ports of entry, in California, and increasingly in Arizona. It arrives in passenger vehicles, hidden inside their frames and in other places in the cars, followed by tractor-trailers, where the drugs are hidden in legal imported goods.Besides, tunnels running from Mexico to the US have become an increasingly common way to smuggle drugs.

US authorities in August discovered a tunnel stretching from a house in Mexico to an abandoned fast-food restaurant in Arizona. Since 1990, US officials have discovered at least 230 tunnels, most of them running from Mexico into California and Arizona. It’s believed smugglers have spent thousands of dollars to build the more sophisticated ones with ventilation and lighting.Testimony during Guzman’s trial made it clear that physical barriers did little to prevent the shipment of his Sinaloa Cartel’s drugs to the US. A former cartel member detailed an operation in which trains took cocaine stuffed inside compartments of tankers filled with cooking oil from Mexico to New Jersey. Testimony was presented of the cartel using airplanes to fly cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, which was then offloaded to trucks for transport via official border crossings to cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.Jurors also watched a video of a cartel submarine carrying 13,000 pounds (some 5,900 kg) of cocaine worth more than $100 million. The US Coast Guard intercepted the submarine off Guatemala’s coast as it headed north. The Coast Guard has detected dozens of such subs over the years, many bound for Mexico.

Why Trump Backtracked

The breakthrough came as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey both experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs on Friday because of the shutdown. And the world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — was experiencing long security wait times. The standoff became so severe that, as the Senate opened with prayer, Chaplain Barry Black called on high powers in the “hour of national turmoil” to help senators do “what is right.”Blinking, Trump agreed to sign legislation funding shuttered agencies until Feb 15 and try again to persuade lawmakers to finance his long-sought wall. The deal he reached contains no new money for the wall but ends the longest shutdown in US history.First the Senate, then the House swiftly and unanimously approved the deal. Late Friday, Trump signed it into law.

The administration asked federal department heads to reopen offices in a “prompt and orderly manner” and said furloughed employees can return to work.But the fight is far from over. “We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier. If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb 15 again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said. The President has said he could declare a national emergency to fund the border wall unilaterally if Congress doesn’t provide the money.Yet, as negotiations restart, Trump enters them from a weakened position. Recent polls show that a strong majority of Americans blamed him for the standoff and rejected his arguments for a border wall.

The Stalemate

• Trump is demanding $5.7 billion to build more than 200 miles (321.86 km) of his proposed Southwest border wall

• Pending that, he had refused to sign spending bills that prevented reopening government due to lack of money

• Democrats insist they won’t give him any wall funds but have been willing to provide $1.3 billion for other types of border security like technology and some physical barriers

• Polls this month show more Americans blaming Trump than Democrats for the shutdown

• Majorities of Republicans polled agree with Trump that there’s an immigration crisis at the Mexican border and blame Democrats for the shutdown

The Impact

• This shutdown affected about 8 lakh federal employees out of 1.8 million full-time civil servants, excluding military personnel and postal workers

• Of these, about 3.8 lakh were furloughed, meaning they cannot work or get paid. The rest, whose positions are categorised as essential, were working without pay

• Federal workers perform a variety of critical roles such as protecting the waterways; certifying commercial aircrafts; screening passengers; ensuring food safety and inspection; investigating crime; and providing emergency care

Previous Shutdowns

• Shutdowns happened every year when Jimmy Carter was president, averaging 11 days each

• During President Ronald Reagan’s two terms, there were six shutdowns, typically just one or two days apiece

• The most recent significant shutdown was a 16-day partial shuttering in 2013 over tea party conservatives trying to block implementation of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law