By R. MARK FREY
ST. PAUL, Minn. (March 2, 2015) — Whew! Did you hear the news? The House of Representatives averted a near cataclysmic shutdown of the country’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the weekend by passing legislation late Friday night to extend the agency’s operations for another week so that it could figure out a way to fully fund the agency for the fiscal year while addressing at the same time the matter of President Obama’s 11/20/2014 immigration executive actions, due to go into effect in the coming weeks. Some contend it’s a moot point since a federal district court in Texas issued an injunction, but House Republicans are adamant that President Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority and must be stopped. In fact, they’ve shown their willingness to shut down the Department of Homeland Security to make a point, ideologically-speaking.
Well, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. What exactly is the Department of Homeland Security and how important is it? This is an agency that was organized in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, a day seared into the memory of all Americans, a day when the nation was attacked by a small group of zealots and extremists. Formally coming into existence on March 1, 2003, this superagency, comprised of some 22 offices and agencies, is in its own words concerned with securing the nation “from the many threats we face…[with] more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.”
Some of the key sub-agencies included within DHS are U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Secret Service, Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These sub-agencies are assigned the duty of keeping America safe from “the many threats we face.” Hmm, not a small task – trying to protect the country’s population of approximately 320 million people. So, one might legitimately ask why a group of legislators with a certain ideological bent and objective of stopping President Obama’s executive actions go so far as to shut down DHS, an agency devoted to ensuring our nation’s security. How in the world does this make sense? Some have thoughtlessly responded that there never was any danger since most DHS personnel are key and essential employees, concerned with the nation’s security and safety, and thus required to stay at their jobs, albeit without pay. (Although those DHS personnel deemed non-essential would be furloughed).
One might rightfully ask, in the words of that powerful Marvin Gaye song, “what’s going on”? How is taking the country to the precipice of a security breakdown good for the morale of those DHS employees? How does that action benefit the country? Is that any way to run a government? Would that be any way to run a business? How can we feel secure with the realization that some of our elected officials are more concerned with ideological purity than getting government to work for us? The latter requires a willingness to work with others of different persuasions to solve problems facing our nation. At the very least, it calls for a certain degree of pragmatism and readiness to step away from the ideological blinders.
Ultimately, it brings us back to such age-old questions as what is government, what is the purpose of government, and why do we need it? In 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, simply and eloquently laying out the proposition that government is us, “of the people, by the people, for the people”. In 1809, Thomas Jefferson observed in a letter to a group of citizens in Maryland, “the care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government”. Very simply put, it means doing the people’s business.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, H-1B visas, and religious workers.