A week later, here’s why the government shutdown is still important

Photo by David Everett Strickler from Unsplash

Last week, President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign the most recent federal budget extension whipped Capitol Hill into a frenzy. The government shut down for the weekend, and while nearly 800,000 federal employees were working furloughs, Congress was still collecting paychecks. The reason for the shutdown was a bill allocating funds for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), disaster aid, military spending, and, most importantly, immigration reform which includes DACA — the most controversial bill of them all. Once the government kicked into first gear once again, Trump tweeted out to DACA recipients they had nothing to worry about, but how true is that?

DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an executive order that protects illegal immigrants from imprisonment or deportation. To qualify, you had to arrive in the U.S. before your 16th birthday, live here since 2007, be enrolled in or have graduated school, and have a clean criminal record. It’s more of a selective enforcement strategy than a move to grant legal status. Unfortunately, this means DACA recipients still don’t get the same treatment as U.S. citizens. For example, universities in Georgia aren’t required to provide in-state tuition rates to DACA recipients. Also, the Board of Regents barred many universities from even considering illegal immigrant applicants despite their qualifications. Georgia State began accepting DACA applicants last spring, but still does not grant them in-state tuition, despite their qualifications.

DACA has massive public support, as PEW Research reports. Seventy-four percent of Americans support legal status for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, regardless of political ideology. While DACA didn’t pass with the budget bill, the bipartisan support means it’s likely to pass in a stand-alone bill.

The problem is that this is not a stand-alone immigration bill. It’s a budget bill with immigration policy crammed into it. Senate Democrats hoped to use the budget bill to pass DACA into law. Republicans needed Democrats to vote on the bill to keep the government open and allocate funds for CHIP. So the two sides did something you rarely see in American politics—they reached a compromise. The bipartisan bill would have created merit-based immigration system (doing away with the diversity visa program), enforced new restrictions on chain migration, and allowed current DACA recipients to keep their immigration status. But all of this was clumsily packaged into a budget bill that should have had nothing to do with immigration.

The Senate isn’t going to waste time voting on a clean immigration bill when a bipartisan agreement had already been passed. So when Trump reaches across the aisle and offers to pass a clean DACA, they gave him a polished turd and said, “Here’s DACA.” The truth is, Washington elites were willing to play chicken with the paychecks of federal employees and members of our Armed Forces. While the Senate was getting paid to point fingers and delay an agreement, thousands of government workers were sent home or had to work furlough days. At the CDC, about 65 percent of the staff had to work without pay during the shutdown.

The Senate tried to hold President Trump hostage with the threat of a government shutdown, and then blamed him when he refused to capitulate. “We bent over backwards to meet his demands,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “This will be remembered as the Trump shutdown.” Senator Lindsey Graham presented the bill to Secretary of DHS Kirstjen Nielsen. “If the Democrats give us to everything we want on border and merit-based immigration, they won’t have any leverage when it comes to the rest of the 11 million,” he said. Secretary Nielsen bluntly told him that the president would have to read it first.

Trying to tie immigration reform to a spending bill was a political stunt. But with a temporary bill passed and the government reopened, a few positives came out of this mess. CHIP has received funding after long delay, as the Senate has been unable to reach an agreement since last Fall. CHIP provides insurance to children living in households with an income up to $50,000 for a family of four. The Cadillac tax was pushed back, which would have imposed an unGodly tax rate on employers who provide their employees with better healthcare. It also pushed back other health insurance taxes that would have spiked the price of premiums up by as much as 3%. This must be why the Senate’s approval rating is so low. It reached a record high last November at 78 percent. They can’t even come to an agreement over a simple spending bill. Our best chance of fixing it is to get politically involved. Just be sure to remember this when we vote on November 6.