Trade unlikely to be seriously affected by DHS shutdown despite warnings

A looming shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security could put U.S. international trade, not just national security, at risk, President Obama warned Monday, though in reality trade at ports of entry will not be delayed even in the event of a DHS shutdown.

What began as a debate over immigration reform has evolved into a stalemate that could threaten customs operations at airports, seaports and land borders nationwide in a matter of days, Obama said. The reality, however, is that even though the president may have no money to pay critical DHS employees such as Customs inspectors and staff who maintain automated customs filing systems, they will come to work anyway in loyalty to the mission of protecting the homeland and will in all probability be made whole financially when funding for the department is eventually restored.

“It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security because their hard work helps to keep us safe,” Obama said Monday at a meeting of state governors at the White House.

Congress is running out of time before the agencies that staff U.S. Customs and Homeland Security offices will lose funding, according to the president. Lawmakers have until midnight Friday before funding for the Department of Homeland Security, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency it oversees, runs out.

A shutdown would suspend pay, but not work for more than 100,000 border patrol, port inspection and airport security agents, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters.

“If our headquarters staff is cut back to a skeleton, that inhibits our ability to stay on top of a lot of the existing situations and challenges,” Johnson said. “[It’s] not in the public’s best interest.”

For weeks now, the $39.7 billion budgeted for the department has been caught in a battle between the new conservative Congress and the White House, after the president’s recent decision to limit the deportation of millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

A House bill that would cover the department through Sept. 30 while also overturning the Obama administration’s immigration reform passed, but was in turn blocked by a Democratic minority in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared a stalemate and urged the House to make the next move. House Speaker John Boehner’s response has been brusque.

“The House has done its job under the Constitution,” the Ohio Republican told “Fox News Sunday” last week. “It’s time for the Senate to do its job.”

Boehner said it’s Senate Democrats who are the ones standing in the way.

If the department funding were to run out, Boehner said, “then Senate Democrats would be to blame. Very simply.” Asked if he was prepared to let that happen, Boehner responded, “Certainly. The House has acted. We’ve done our job.

Neither House nor Senate Republican aides have outlined lawmakers’ next steps or any solution to the current impasse, Reuters reported Monday.

Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on Monday called for a bipartisan end to the deadlock, but did not suggest a resolution himself.

“Responsible members of both parties must work together to find some way to fund DHS without further delay,” he said in a statement.