Trump to address nation as shutdown threatens longer Canada-U.S. wait times

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was scheduled to make his live prime-time Oval Office debut Thursday, hoping to justify the partial shutdown of the government in a bid to secure the U.S.-Mexico border — action that observers say is already manifesting itself along the country’s northern boundary with Canada.

With the ongoing partial government shutdown just days from becoming the longest in U.S. history, Trump was scheduled to address the nation live for the first time in his presidency about what he calls a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border, his singular focus on the need for a towering wall to keep out illegal immigrants.

Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to pay for the wall is at the core of his showdown with Democrats on Capitol Hill, an ideological clash that triggered the Dec. 22 shutdown and forced some 380,000 government employees to stay home on unpaid leave. Another 450,000 essential workers, including Customs and Border Protection officials, are working without pay.

The Nexus cross-border preclearance program, which is not considered an essential service by the U.S. government, has already been affected. New applications are not being accepted, many on-site offices are closed and interviews with applicants, which are typically conducted in tandem by Canadian and American officials, are being postponed or cancelled.

And if the shutdown persists, it’s likely that unpaid CBP officials will soon start defying their government and staying home — even if they are sympathetic to the president’s cause, said Len Saunders, a Canadian immigration lawyer who’s based in Blaine, Wash., near the Canada-U.S. crossing.

Saunders, who routinely chats up border officials, said the shutdown began just after they received their last paycheques, helping to soften the blow. But with the shutdown now nearly 18 days old, that financial cushion is likely gone.

“Over the next week, I think that’s when you’re going to see a lot of resentment at the border,” Saunders said. “I think what you’re going to see is officers saying, ‘If I’m not getting paid, why should I come to work?’ You’re going to see a gradual slowdown in the number of officers.

“But you have to remember — 99 per cent of the CBP officers, they’re Republican. Most of them are very, very conservative and definitely support Trump.”

In the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration has acknowledged a spike in sick calls from airport security screeners, another group of essential employees who are working without pay. But the impact to date has been minimal and the wait times remain within the agency’s standards, the TSA said in a statement earlier this week.

That, too, could soon change: one of the unions that represents screeners told Politico that a number of its shutdown-stricken members have already quit in search of other work, and more are contemplating whether to do so if they don’t get paid at the end of the week.

At Canada’s busiest airports in Toronto and Vancouver, where U.S. officers perform border-protection duties, wait times remain normal. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport did experience delays last week, but it’s impossible to say whether it was related to the shutdown, said Maria Ganogiannis, a spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.

“Our holiday season is Dec. 16 to Jan. 6, and it’s possible that the higher passenger volume contributed to longer wait times during this period,” Ganogiannis said in an email.

“Wait times for passengers to the U.S. vary daily, based on the staffing that U.S. CBP puts in place and the volume of passengers travelling. Other than providing the infrastructure that our partner agencies use, the GTAA does not have a role in how quickly passengers clear customs and security.”

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to media inquiries Thursday. A number of staff in the agency’s media-relations department have been furloughed.

“The longer this takes, the more animosity you’re going to see at the border,” Saunders said. “Right now, it’s not a big issue, but it could be.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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