Federal shutdown short-lived but looms over immigration debate

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As Congress wrangled over a spending bill and debated short- and long-term fixes for the immigration system, the federal government shut down for three days, impacting various federal offices in the Taos area.

The government “shut down” Saturday (Jan. 20) at midnight because lawmakers had not passed a temporary funding bill. It lasted until late in the day Monday (Jan. 22), when President Donald Trump signed a bill that funds the federal government through Feb. 7 but did not include protections for “dreamers,” people brought to the country illegally as children.

The immediate force of the nationwide closure of government offices was blunted somewhat because it came at the start of a weekend.

The Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that operates the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, did not close recreation areas as it has in previous government shutdowns.

Dozens of hikers, walkers and fishers took advantage of a sunny afternoon at Wild Rivers Recreation Area on Saturday although the visitor center and flush toilets were gated and locked. Vault toilets, which don’t have plumbing, were left unlocked and stocked with toilet paper.

“Closed due to goverment (sic) shutdown. Sorry,” read one hastily hand-written sign at the monument posted with black duct tape.

Back at the BLM office in Taos, the shutdown wasn’t so casual.

On Monday, the agency was trying to officially close its doors in preparation for a shutdown that could have lasted for weeks as the case has been in previous government closures due to funding bills. BLM employees signed furlough documents Monday morning, according to John Bailey, manager of the national monument. Only essential staff, such as a fire officer and a field manager, were to keep working through the shutdown.

Other federal offices, such as the U.S. Forest Service station in Taos, also closed Monday, with voicemails promising to return calls once funding is restored. The spokesperson for the Carson National Forest, Denise Ottaviano, called The Taos News Tuesday, but said she was given “really clear guidance” to direct all shutdown-related questions to the national communications office in Washington, D.C.

Late Monday, Democrats in the Senate joined Republicans in passing a funding measure that reopened the federal government for three weeks. Both senators from New Mexico voted in favor of the temporary spending bill.

Support for “dreamers” and the future of Trump’s proposed wall on the United States-Mexico border were central to the budget negotiations for the past several weeks.

The New Mexico Dream Team, a coalition of undocumented people and their allies, pressed New Mexico’s federal lawmakers to vote against any funding bill, known as a “continuing resolution,” that did not include a form of the Dream Act. To that end, activists displayed banners in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Vegas; they also hosted press conferences outside the offices of congresspeople and disrupted the State of the State address at the start of the legislative session at the Roundhouse.

“Democrats voted to reopen the government without guaranteed protections for my community,” said Felipe Rodriquez, an undocumented Albuquerque resident and one of the organizers of New Mexico Dream Team. “I am an undocumented student and I am eligible for the Dream Act. I deserve the opportunity to an education and develop into my career to contribute to my community. My family…have the right to feel safe and to be together,” he said.

Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, defined his eventual yea vote in a statement Monday, saying, “While it definitely isn’t a perfect deal, we must work together to make progress.

“The American people don’t support President Trump’s platform of hate and division – and Democrats will not accept a ‘take it or leave it’ offer on immigration that will further tear this country apart. While this agreement opens up a path forward for the Dreamers, I am still fighting to ensure we reach a responsible bipartisan budget agreement that funds our military and our domestic priorities for longer than a few weeks,” Udall said.

The temporary funding bill then went to the U.S. House of Representatives, where both Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for governor of New Mexico, and Ben Ray Luján, who represents Northern New Mexico, voted against the bill. Both are Democrats. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who is also running for governor this year, voted for the measure.

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