Congresswoman Norma Torres

Representing the 35th District of California
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POLITICS: Immigration fight could freeze workers' paychecks

February 25, 2015
In The News

As a political battle over immigration was moving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security closer to a possible partial shutdown, Border Patrol Agent Arturo Alcaraz was preparing to report to work on Monday, March 2, as usual.

Alcaraz, who works out of the Murrieta Border Patrol station, is one of tens of thousands of DHS employees who are deemed essential and must work even if there’s no money to pay them. Funding for the agency would run out at midnight Friday unless the immigration dispute is resolved.

Alcaraz said DHS employees shouldn’t be victims of Washington wrangling.

“We’re being used as pawns in their political agenda,” said Alcaraz, who is active in the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents agents.

At issue are attempts by Republicans to use the DHS budget as leverage to quash President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration, which would allow about five million immigrants in the country illegally to apply for protection against deportation.

The House passed a bill that would fund DHS only if the executive actions are repealed.

Officials have said that more than 85 percent of the department’s 230,000 employees would continue to work even if the agency shuts down because they are considered essential for the protection of human life and property. That includes front-line employees of the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

Some office employees are among those who would be furloughed. DHS did not respond to emails and phone calls on how many of its employees are stationed in Riverside and San Bernardino counties and how many of them would be furloughed.

Alcaraz said a shutdown could cause financial turmoil in DHS employees’ lives.

“A number of people are the sole providers for their whole families and this creates a lot of stress,” he said.

The financial worries could affect Border Patrol agents’ ability to do their jobs, said Terence Shigg, president of National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, which includes agents in Murrieta.

“Do you want somebody who is risking their life protecting the country every day who is worried about how to pay for child care, how to pay the mortgage?” asked Shigg, who works out of the San Clemente Border Patrol station. “That’s a major distraction, and that gets people hurt in our line of work.”

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, whose district is primarily in San Bernardino County, warned that a shutdown could delay the disbursement of millions of dollars of DHS grant money to fire departments throughout California, including in Riverside, Redlands and Ontario.

“This is a dangerous game the Republicans are playing,” Torres said in a news release.

But Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the bill the House passed reflected an effort to stop “the President’s unconstitutional executive amnesty.” Calvert and other Republicans have said that only Congress, and not the president, has the right to make such sweeping changes to immigration policy.