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Government shutdown 101: What does it mean for homeland security?

TSA agents, border patrol, and air traffic control will continue to staff airports and borders in the event of a government shutdown, but most budget and administrative tasks will be suspended.

A Customs and Border Patrol agent drives along the international border in Nogales, Ariz., in April 2010. In the event of a government shutdown, 80 percent of personnel with the Department of Homeland Security – which includes CBP and the TSA – will remain on duty.

Matt York / AP

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As travelers make their through airports and America’s border crossings during a government shutdown, they will find little changed.

Transportation Security Administration agents who screen airline passengers are considered essential to America’s safety and will remain on duty.

So, too, are the Department of Homeland Security’s frontline field operations personnel, including the US border patrol, who will “continue with their duties during a shutdown,” says a DHS official who asked not to be named because agency operational plans are still being finalized.

Customs inspectors who secure shipping containers, for example, will also remain on duty. So will roughly 80 percent of DHS personnel, who are considered critical and thus will stay on the job regardless of the length of any budget-induced closures, according to department officials

So will a shutdown change anything?

Yes. The DHS’s E-Verify program – allowing employers to check job applicants' immigration status, to ensure potential hires are legal residents – “will not operate in the case of a government shutdown,” according to the DHS official. This could in turn impact the ability of small businesses to make hires.

State and local agencies will still be able to check legal alien status through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, adds the official.

The Federal Aviation Administration, for its part, “will retain all employees necessary to keep the national airspace system operating safely,” according to an FAA spokesperson.

However, some FAA functions will be suspended, including aircraft certification and the development, testing, and evaluation of NextGen technologies. The FAA describes NextGen as a “comprehensive overhaul” of the national airspace system to “make air travel more convenient and dependable, while ensuring your flight is as safe, secure and hassle-free as possible.”

Most budget and administrative activities will also be suspended, according to the official.

In the meantime, Congress is closely monitoring developments. “We’re hopeful that all of our security needs will be met,” says one congressional staffer. “I don’t think we’re concerned that the TSA will have no screeners, or the CBP [customs and border patrol] will have no officers. We obviously know that no one’s going to sacrifice security,” the staffer adds, “We’re just waiting for details.”

Government shutdown 101:

Introduction: What would a shutdown mean for you?

Part 1: What does it mean for veterans?

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Part 2: Will I still have to file my taxes?

Part 3: Will Social Security and Medicare be affected?

Part 4: What does it mean for the military?

Part 5: What does it mean for homeland security?

Part 6: What does it mean for Medicaid?

Part 7: How will it affect unemployment insurance?

Part 8: What does it mean for welfare and food stamps?

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