Last weekend my son and I were discussing the possibility of an emergency declaration on our southern border. We agreed that with declining rates of illegal immigration through that border, there is no “emergency.” We did talk about the real emergencies in our country.
The 800,000 federal employees who have not been paid for more than a month are facing a real emergency. Rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, gasoline to drive to jobs for which there is no pay, child care and other routine expenses that must be paid are an emergency to those who have no resources to pay their bills. Some creditors have been willing to work with their customers to keep vital services. Others have not and want payment. The stress on those worried about losing their home or heat and not having food for their families is horrible. These people did nothing wrong and only want to be paid for their work. That is an emergency.
Employees of the federal prisons, including the Leavenworth facility, are working without pay. Many of these people are putting their safety on the line each day as they work with dangerous and desperate men. Programs are being cut and noncustodial staff is filling in for trained officers in working with inmates. My daddy worked at the prison and I know what a toll the work takes on staff members. For those working in the institution with short staffing and not being paid is an emergency.
The economy is suffering. Small businesses in particular are feeling the loss of business. If 800,000 people are not able to make routine purchases, it has to be affecting businesses, especially in areas with a high number of affected government workers. Early estimates predicted a .1 percent loss in growth per two weeks of the shutdown. The actual decline in growth is being reported at .01 percent per week, double predictions. That is an emergency.
The safety of the American people is being compromised. Federal aviation employees are working without pay, creating a shortage of inspectors as well as overworked and demoralized workers. The FDA has stopped routine food inspections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not conducting in-depth investigations to identify outbreaks or conduct flu surveillance during the height of the flu season. If major outbreaks of flu or other communicable diseases occur, that is an emergency.
The Head Start program did not provide grant money to local programs in 11 states. One program serving 900 children in Mississippi was forced to temporarily close until they received funding. For those children and their parents who depend on Head Start for child care and other services, that is an emergency.
Our national parks and monuments are closed, to include the Statue of Liberty. Ironically, the message inscribed on the Statue of Liberty which has meant so much to the American people now seems to represent the greatest of emergencies.
“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, the tempest tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
All Americans who are not indigenous are the descendants of immigrants. This country was built by the invention, hard work and determination of immigrants. Those seeking to immigrate to this country because they have been the victims of violence are now waiting for the courts that determine their eligibility to reopen due to the shutdown. That is an emergency. People seeking asylum are not the emergency.
There are many issues in our country that rise to the level of emergencies. The biggest, at this time, is the shutdown of our government. The president and his supporters appear to have no understanding of what this is doing to the American people, our institutions, our safety and more. That ambivalence and lack of responsibility is the emergency. And, I believe, the one Americans want addressed.
Jane Gies is a Leavenworth Times columnist.