Artesia Border Patrol Academy unpaid during government shutdown

During a partial shutdown of the federal government, many of the same federal employees meant to police the southern border – the U.S. Border Patrol – were asked to work without pay.

The shutdown of the federal government entered its 25th day on Thursday, making it the longest shutdown in the history of the nation.

Congressional Democrats and the White House remained deadlocked on negotiations to fund security at the country’s southern border, and a border wall promised by U.S. President Donald Trump during his bid for office.

At the U.S. Border Patrol Academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia, about 800 to 1,000 federal workers continue to work – for free – during the shutdown.

Chief Patrol Agent Dan Harris said his staff are avoiding politics and sticking to their mission to keep Americans safe.

“We’re training people to go out into the field, just as if our government wasn’t shutdown,” he said. “We definitely have to stay out of the political world. We’re law enforcement. We have to protect our citizens.”

While Harris said he isn’t worried about his personal situation as he continues to go without a pay check – he graduated from the academy in 1995, the year of the second-longest shut down in history – he said staff are getting worried and some have sought assistance from local banks to make ends meet.

“We hope this will be resolved,” Harris said. “We have a lot of dedicated people who want to protect America. There’s a lot of concern from my employees. Everyone has issues and concerns.”

“I experienced that when I first graduated. Law enforcement are very resilient. We’ll get through these issues.”

Carlsbad National Bank hopes to help federal employees as a solution is sought.

The bank publicized its commitment this week to assist workers either furloughed or unpaid to overcome financial hurdles caused by the shutdown.

President Jay Jenkins said the assistance will come on a “case-by-case” basis and could take the form of loans, deferred payments or fee waivers.

“I can guarantee everyone has a different situation,” he said. “We’re just happy, being the hometown bank, that we can help.”

Thousands of federal workers are employed in the Carlsbad area at agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

Jenkins said his bank is committed to addressing the unique needs of the community.

“Nothing is going on in the rest of the state,” he said. “It’s all happening here. We’re a community that is a leader.”

And while many the Carlsbad area brace for the shutdown to continue, Jenkins said he hoped the conflict would soon be resolved.

But until then, he hoped more local companies and organizations would lend support.

“It’s up to our elected leaders to come up with a resolution,” he said. “That’s what they do. It needs to come to an end. Period. People are getting tired of the finger pointing.”

Debate continues for lawmakers

Trump lashed out at Democrats for blocking the $5.7 billion he said he needs to pay for the wall and forcing the shutdown, in a Wednesday morning Tweet, continuing to claim a “humanitarian crisis” at the southern border and accusing Democrats of favoring crime and open borders.

“It is becoming more and more obvious that the Radical Democrats are a Party of open borders and crime. They want nothing to do with the major Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border. #2020!” Trump tweeted.

The comments came a day after the White House served fast food to national college football champions the Clemson Tigers – and Trump claimed it was “the best he could do” during the shutdown, again, blaming democrats.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall held a press conference on Tuesday to discuss what he called the “devastating consequences” of the partial federal shutdown.

Udall pointed to the impacts on federal workers, farmers, ranchers, Native American tribes and public lands across New Mexico.

He said at least 10,800 New Mexicans work for a federal agency impacted by the shutdown.

“President Trump and his allies in Congress are holding the livelihoods of thousands of New Mexicans hostage in an attempt to force taxpayers to spend over $5 billion on an offensive — and ineffective — border wall,” Udall said.

“New Mexico is one of the states that is being hit the hardest by this Trump shutdown. My staff estimates that at least 10,800 New Mexicans work for an agency that is shut down. That is a very conservative estimate. The vast majority of these individuals are either furloughed or working without pay.”

Agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture were unable to issue loans to farmers and ranchers, and economic development programs in rural communities, Udall said.

He also worried that food assistance programs were in danger for “hundreds of thousands” of New Mexicans, while national parks and monuments across the state were either closed or provided no support staff or services for visitors.

“Critical services have been shuttered, affecting communities all across our state. And while he claims this is about border security, the president is actually forcing the officers at our ports of entry and border patrol agents to either work with no pay or be furloughed,” Udall said.

In the meantime, Congressional Democrats hope to reach a deal that would reopen government, without funding the wall. Udall called on Republicans to side against Trump and the shutdown.

“The president needs to stop holding these New Mexicans hostage for his toxic political agenda. Democrats have offered bipartisan solutions to re-open the government,” Udall said. “The president needs to accept sensible compromise – and if he won’t, Republican leaders need to stand up to him.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


©2019 the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.)

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