All This Over a Wall? Why #ShutdownStories Should Matter More

By Kara Naseef

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s only.

At midnight on December 21, 2018, approximately 380,000 “non-essential” federal employees were sent home without pay along with tens of thousands of federal contract workers. After twenty-nine days, most have not returned to work. Approximately 450,000 workers are being required to work without pay and workers will likely not be reimbursed even when the government reopens.

Many federal workers continue to post their #ShutdownStories on social media. These stories attempt to draw attention to the troubling impact of political games on American families. In fact, the shutdown is having twice the effects on the economy than the administration initially estimated. Trump said he can relate to those who are not receiving paychecks and claimed that many of them agree with what he is doing. But the latest Marist Poll suggests otherwise.

A majority of Americans, 70%, believe that shutting down the government to reach policy consensus is a bad strategy, including 35% of Republicans, 72% of Independents and 96% of Democrats. A majority, 53%, blame President Trump, and many said that they definitely plan to vote against the President in 2020.

The Marist Poll also found that 31% of Americans blame Congressional Democrats for the shutdown – and I can understand why. Although some Democrats have argued that conceding to Trump’s demand for funding a border wall is wasteful, the of the shutdown to taxpayers has likely surpassed the cost of the wall. It costs more to shut down the government than keep it running and is estimated to cost at least tens of millions of dollar a day.

Democrats are resisting making a compromise that would allow Trump to come through on one of his infamous campaign promises. It is hard to predict how the Administration might interpret a compromise and whether it would later hold the government hostage again in exchange for future demand.

I hope that Congressional Democrats are carefully weighing their predictions against the consequences federal workers are facing daily. For employees required to continue working throughout the shutdown—including corrections officers, TSA agents and border patrol officers—the shutdown arguably amounts to involuntary servitude. And under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, federal workers are legally prohibiting from going on strike  .

Perhaps it is this careful analysis that led Speaker Pelosi to reschedule President Trump’s State of the Union address. In an attempt to speak Trump’s language, Pelosi may know that Trump’s desire to give the speech could override his pride in securing appropriations for the wall and motivate him to negotiate. But his first response refusing to provide a plane for her visit to Afghanistan demonstrates his primary concern to be theatrics, not impact on federal employees.

Trump’s next response on January 19, 2019 offered a compromise. In addition to the border wall, he asked for funding for border agents, immigration judges, humanitarian assistance, and drug-detection technology. In exchanged, he offered a three-year extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protection Status (TPS). Democratic leaders refuse to negotiate on border security and immigration reform until President Trump reopens the government.

This appears to be yet another political move that risks the livelihoods of federal workers, now filing for unemployment benefits. Environmental and human consequences of the wall are severe; however, rather than exploiting Americans’ stories, elected officials should be motivated to compromise, unless that would truly put the country at greater risk.

Instead of merely sharing #ShutdownStories, Democrats should take the stories to heart and consider compromising on the wall despite 2020 campaign considerations. Political instincts have pulled attention away from the true issues at hand: Americans’ livelihoods, border security, and human rights abuses at and within our border.


Kara Naseef is a graduating JD/MPP student at the University of Michigan and received her B.A. in International Studies from American University. She was a 2011 Boren Scholar in Tanzania and a 2018 PRAL Fellow at UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur. Kara is the Managing Symposium Editor for the Michigan Journal of Law Reform and Managing Editor of RefLaw