Republicans’ Budgetary Leash On Homeland Security Won’t Actually Affect Executive Action

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

To punish President Obama over his immigration executive action, House Republicans are mulling over a spending package that could limit funding to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through early next year. But the move would have the adverse effect of weakening border security, without actually blocking Obama’s program to defer the deportation of some immigrants.

The Cromnibus, which The Hill described as “a combination of a long-term omnibus spending bill and a shorter-term continuing resolution (CR),” contains 11 appropriations bills that would keep government agencies funded through the end of the 2015 fiscal year. Separately, the DHS would be funded at its existing level through a continuing resolution until February 27, 2015.

“Without a threat of a government shutdown, this sets up a direct challenge to the president’s unilateral actions on immigration when we have new majorities in both chambers of Congress,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters.

But shutting down DHS wouldn’t do much to thwart Obama’s deferred action program, since United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency overseeing deportation policy and deferred action applications, is mostly funded through user fees.

What’s more, much else of the DHS would also continue functioning, because many law enforcement roles are considered “essentially functions” insulated from budgetary blips. During last year’s shutdown, about 86 percent of DHS personnel were deemed essential and continued to work. As the New Republic points out, those agencies include “criminal law enforcement operations, passenger processing and cargo inspection functions, Secret Service, counter-terrorism, and the select administrative personnel required to carry out these duties.”

Those programs that would be affected, however, perform important security functions.

“Short-term Continuing Resolution funding measures are disruptive, create uncertainty, and impede efficient resource planning and execution,” a DHS official told ThinkProgress on Wednesday. “They inherently slow down day-to-day operations, force leadership to make short-sighted versus long-term decisions, and adversely impact operations in a manner that is hard to overcome if full funding is provided later in the year. Additionally, the disruption to acquisitions, the slow-down of our business processes, such as contracting and hiring, and the effect of many other elements driven by short-term funding have a direct impact on [the] effectiveness of the Department.”

Here is a look at some issues that could arise if the DHS does not get funding past March:

New border security programs would be thwarted.Any new programs are not considered “essential functions.” And cutting off funding to new programs like Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s plan to develop the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Planning effort, a strategic framework to enhance security of the southern border, could have noticeable impact on continued manned surveillance of the southern border. That plan seeks to put 84 boats over waterways like the Rio Grande. Also affected would be remote surveillance as requested in the 2015 budget request, a plan that includes acquiring Mobile Video Surveillance Systems (MVSS) and Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) upgrades to “gain more persistent surveillance coverage, greater situational awareness and will have the ability to effectively detect, identify, track, and interdict “Items of Interest” along the Southwest border.”

Urban counterterrorism programs could be affected. The Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) provides funding support “for the acquisition and installation of security equipment on real property (including buildings and improvements) owned or leased by the nonprofit organization, specifically in prevention of and/or protection against the risk of a terrorist attack,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported. But because the grant program is considered a kind of new start, it would not be funded under a short-term continuing resolution bill.

Cutting off funding could affect a city’s ability to protect against a terrorist attack during high-profile events such as the NCAA’s Final Four in Atlanta in 2013 or when a man drove a SUV packed with explosives into Times Square in New York City in 2010. A report also found that the UASI program “strengthens capabilities to deter, prevent and protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs).” Last year’s funding affected 39 urban areas.

Businesses won’t be able to check the legal status of employees through the E-Verify program. The E-Verify program, which allows employers to check the legal status of potential employees through a background check, could be inoperable if funding runs out in March. During the last government shutdown, the program was inaccessible to employers, rendering businesses without a reliable tool to help determine whether they could legally hire people. As the Christian Science Monitor noted at the time, “state and local agencies will still be able to check legal alien status through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.”

Delaying funding of the Coast Guard’s commissioned vessels could increase future cost.The continuing resolution does not provide enough funding for the production of the eighth National Security Cutter, just one ship in a series of commissioned vessels used to support maritime homeland security and defense missions. The current offer by the prime and sub-contractors could increase, resulting in increased cost to the delivery of the vessel at a future date. According to the Coast Guard, NSC 8 is “vital for performing DHS missions in the far off-shore regions, including the harsh operating environment of the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, and Arctic.”