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As U.S. Shutdown Continues, Trump Continues Wall Campaign

Cutting funds to Central American countries would mean a cutback on humanitarian programs, according to State Department data.

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The White House is seen, Dec. 28, 2018, in Washington. The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump continued Saturday to stress the need for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall as a partial government shutdown, triggered by a stalemate over funding for the project, entered its eighth day.

In a tweet Saturday, Trump said Democrats should take the initiative on ending the shutdown, saying, “I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal” on border security.

A budget standoff remains between Trump, who wants $5 billion in wall funding, and Democratic lawmakers, who back a modest increase in overall border security funding but resolutely oppose a wall.

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Trucks wait for border customs control to cross into the U.S. at the Otay border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Feb. 2, 2017. VOA

Close border, cut aid

In a series of tweets Friday, Trump again threatened to close the entire U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if Congress failed to give him money to fund the wall. He also asked for changes in what he said was the United States’ “ridiculous immigration laws.”

Closing the U.S.-Mexican border would mean disrupting a $1.68 billion-a-day trade relationship between the two countries. In addition, immigrant advocates have called any move to seal the border “disgraceful.”

In a tweet Saturday, Trump linked Democrats’ “pathetic immigration policies” with the deaths of two Guatemalan children while they were in U.S. custody.

His comments, the first to reference the children’s deaths, came the same day that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was finishing a two-day visit to the southern U.S. border, where she said in a statement, “The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis.”

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks at one of border wall prototypes in San Diego, June 28, 2018. VOA

Trump has declined to comment on whether he might accept less than $5 billion for wall funding. When asked Wednesday how long he thought the shutdown would last, Trump told reporters, “Whatever it takes.”

420,000 work without pay

Out of a workforce of about 2.1 million federal employees, more than 800,000 have been furloughed without pay. About 420,000 of those furloughed employees are being required to work without pay.

Democrats have blamed Trump for “plunging the country into chaos” and have noted that, weeks ago, Trump said he would be proud to own a shutdown over border wall funding.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and presumed incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a joint statement, “The president wanted the shutdown, but seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”

 

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A border wall prototype stands in San Diego near the Mexico-U.S. border, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 22, 2018. VOA

 

The Republican Party controls the White House, as well as both chambers of Congress. Next Thursday, however, a new Congress, with a Democrat-controlled House, will be seated.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Channel on Friday, “We’re here, and they know where to find us.”

Mulvaney also blamed Democrats for the continuing shutdown, saying they have refused to negotiate since the White House made an offer last weekend.

Lorella Praeli, deputy political director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that Congress has an obligation to serve as a check on the executive branch.

“This government shutdown is due solely to Trump’s border wall obsession and his refusal to abandon his anti-immigrant agenda, even at the cost of denying hundreds of thousands of federal workers their holiday paychecks and impacting operations at several federal agencies,” Praeli said.

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A monitor in the House of Representatives displays a schedule update on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018. VOA

Affected departments

Among the government agencies affected by the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22 are the departments of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Interior and the Executive Office of the President.

Early Saturday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had funding through midnight Friday, was shutdown. Many of the agency’s 14,000 employees are being furloughed, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said. Disaster-response teams and other employees deemed essential would continue to work, she added.

If the partial shutdown continues, the Smithsonian Institution said it would begin closing its 19 museums, art galleries and National Zoo starting midweek. The Smithsonian attractions drew nearly 21 million visitors by the end of October 2018, according to the institution’s website. It recorded 30 million visitors in 2017

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Tourists arrive to visit the U.S. Capitol on a rainy morning in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018, during a partial government shutdown. VOA

Mexico’s reaction

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters Friday that Trump’s border-closure threat was an internal U.S. government matter.

“We take great care of the relationship with the government of the United States,” Lopez Obrador said. “Of course we will always defend our sovereignty. … We will always protect migrants, defend their human rights.”

Also Read: Donald Presses Democrats on Border Wall Funding Ahead of Senate Meeting

Cutting funds to Central American countries would mean a cutback on humanitarian programs, according to State Department data. The aid includes assistance on civilian security, legal development and basic nutrition.

The largest grant was spent to help with agriculture in Guatemala, where the U.S. Agency for International Development says food security is a “grave concern.” (VOA)

Next Story

New Rule in USA to Allow Passengers to Bring Pet Animals on Flight

New Rules Could Bump Emotional-Support Animals From Planes

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Airlines can now let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply. Pixabay

The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.

Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.

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Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. Pixabay

Tighter rules praised

The U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.

“Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.

Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, too, and were pleased with Wednesday’s proposed changes.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The union chief said untrained pets had hurt some of her members.

Veterans groups pleased

Veterans groups have sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.

“It’s just interesting how people want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them,” Rizzi said.

Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48% from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17%. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.

Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they are proposing the changes to ensure safety on flights. They also said some passengers have abused the current rules.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, and they could take effect any time after that.

The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition of a service animal — it would be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers who want to travel with a service dog will have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them with their disability. A dog that is trained to help a passenger with psychiatric needs would continue to qualify as a service animal.

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Oscar the cat, who is not a service animal, sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. VOA

Note from medical professional

Currently, passengers have been allowed to bring many other animals if they have a medical professional’s note saying they need the animal for emotional support.

The proposal would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds — Delta Air Lines bans pit bulls, for example — but airline employees could refuse to board any animal that they consider a threat to other people.

The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines had “maligned” pit bulls by banning them. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s rule against breed-specific prohibitions “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”

The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips. But airlines could still require forms attesting to an animal’s good behavior and health, which could present challenges if the form has to be completed by a specific institution, Rizzi said.

Also Read- Spain Takes a Step Forward to Combat Climate Change

The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public, and would end the rarely seen use of miniature horses as service animals, although a Transportation Department official indicated the agency is open to reconsidering that provision.

Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules. (VOA)