DHS Shutdown May Be Averted With McConnell’s Clean Bill

By Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.
February 24, 2015 Updated: February 24, 2015

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he will work with Democrats to pass a “clean” version of the bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Absent an agreement, funding would run out on Friday, Feb. 28.

McConnell’s concession came after Senate Democrats filibustered a DHS funding bill four times because it had amendments that would defund President Barack Obama’s deferred action programs for illegal immigrants. A “clean” funding bill would not include those provisions.

McConnell also introduced a separate bill that would defund the president’s immigration programs. The bill would be largely symbolic because McConnell said he would be “happy” to let the clean DHS funding bill be passed first, leaving the GOP with no leverage to pass the defund bill.

The Legal Route

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued that it was no longer necessary for Congress to defund the president’s immigration policies because they had already been temporarily suspended by a federal judge.

“With this federal court injunction in place, any money for the DHS will not go fund the president’s illegal action,” Cornyn said. “What we need to do this week is to fund the DHS.”

The president’s November immigration action, which would shield five million illegal immigrants from deportation and grant them work permits, triggered a lawsuit from Texas and twenty-five other states against the Obama administration.

Last Monday, a district court judge issued a temporary suspension of the president’s deferred action programs created in November, but the injunction could still be overturned by a higher court.

The Department of Justice has already appealed the injunction, and is expected to file an emergency appeal to the Fifth District Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

Parts of the November immigration policies are still in place, and border patrol agents are still discouraged from detaining low-priority illegal immigrants crossing the border. The injunction only targeted policies that might cause “irreparable harm” by granting illegal immigrants quasi-legal status that is difficult to reverse.

A clean DHS funding bill would still require approval from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has repeatedly spoken against a clean DHS bill, as have scores of House Republicans.

“I don’t know what the House will do,” McConnell said.

Protecting National Security

In the event that the DHS runs out of funding, most employees would still continue to work because they’re considered essential personnel. During the government shutdown in October of 2013, around 200,000 of the Department’s 230,000 employees still went to work.

Still, Democrats argue that letting the DHS run out of funding would embolden terrorists abroad and hamper national security efforts.

“I call on our Republican friends to get this bill funded, to get these firefighters funded, and to fund our security and not send a message to al-Shabab that we’re just gonna shut down Homeland Security,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Tuesday.

Al-Shabab is a terrorist group based in Somalia with connection to Al-Qaeda. It claims responsibility for the 2013 terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya that claimed 67 lives, and on Sunday released a video calling on Muslims to attack the Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minn.

Minnesota has been a target for recruiting by Islamist terrorist groups in recent years, with more than 20 young men from the Minneapolis–St. Paul area having traveled to Somalia to fight with the terrorist group, according to Ben Petok, communications director at the federal attorney’s office in Minnesota.

Then, in 2013, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also began recruiting Somali Minnesotans to fight with them in the Middle East, according to a fact sheet compiled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Minnesota.

“That’s why the answer has got to be from the community. We are proud of our Somali community in Minnesota. We have half the Somalis in the country in Minnesota. They have helped us with these cases,” Klobuchar said on MSNBC Sunday.

“There were actually 20 indictments against people participating in al-Shabab, already nine convictions over the past two years, and some recent indictments involving those recruited to go fight with ISIS.” 

Additional reporting by Annie Wu.

Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.