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U.S. Department of Homeland Security Faces Shutdown from 27 February Over US Immigration Dispute

US Immigration controversies are nothing new. Fundamental disagreements over how US immigration reform should be accomplished has led to serious clashes between Republicans and Democrats in the last few years, including an inability to pass the much debated Immigration Reform Bill and a recent lawsuit seeking to block President Obama's executive immigration reform.

The plot is thickening once again. On 25 February 2015, funding is set to run out for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a government agency that is entrusted with many US immigration functions. If DHS does not secure new funding, there is the potential for shutdown of at least some of its functions.

Which agencies will be affected by a shutdown?

DHS is made up of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency which, among other things, administers the ESTA programme and checks US visitors' passports at the US border; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) , the agency which adjudicates US immigration applications such as 'green card' applications for relatives of US citizens, work visas for foreign nationals, and many other US immigration petitions; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to name just a few.

Why is DHS facing shutdown?

The current funding for DHS is set to run out on 27 February. In order for the Department to continue to be funded, the U.S. House and Senate must pass legislation to extend DHS funding, something that is proving difficult due to political differences between Democrats and Republicans. The US Republicans control both the House and the Senate. The House has already passed a DHS funding bill; however, the bill ties the funding to a provision that would reverse President Obama's executive action on immigration. President Obama has already indicated that, if such a bill were to reach his desk, he would veto it. Before the bill can reach President Obama, it must be first passed by the US Senate which, although also controlled by Republicans, is unwilling to pass the bill in its current format. U.S. politicians are currently at an impasse, each blaming the other side if a DHS shutdown was to occur.

Will politicians really allow a government shutdown to take place?

House Speaker John Boehner confirmed in the last few days that he is prepared to allow DHS funding to run out. However, there are still hopes that a political compromise can be reached ahead of the quickly approaching deadline.

Has this happened before?

US government shutdowns have taken place in the past, with the most recent one occurring from 1 to 16 October 2013. During this time, an estimated 700,000- 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed, and over 1 million additional employees had to continue working without knowing when their pay cheque would arrive. Tourists to the USA were impacted as many tourist attractions were closed. US national parks alone suffered an estimated $414 million loss in visitor spending they would have otherwise received during the shutdown.

What will happen if a government shutdown takes place?

Because of the critical roles performed by many DHS agencies, it is expected that most agencies will continue operating even if funding stops. However, the federal employees who would still be reporting to work would be doing so without getting immediately paid and without knowing when they might receive compensation.

White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough criticised the situation during a recent television appearance on CBS, stating: "Congress will continue to get paid, but law enforcement officials associated with defending our borders, protecting us against cyberattacks, defending our airports and making sure that airlines and aviation security is upheld are forced to work without pay. That is something we should not do."

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