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Remembering the 1995 Government Shutdown

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Remembering the 1995 Government Shutdown

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If Congress fails to agree on the federal budget by Friday, April 8, 2011, the government has announced a possible shutdown as of midnight Friday.  This will not be the first time that the government has been shut down due to disagreements among federal offices.

In 1995, a disagreement arose between former President Bill Clinton and Congress both on a temporary measure to “keep the government operating” and “a bill to raise the government’s borrowing limit.”  Federal Government Shutdown Affects INS, State Department, 72 Interpreter Releases 1569, 1571 (Nov. 20, 1995).  When neither issue could be resolved, the federal government temporarily shut down starting at midnight on November 13, 1995.  After President Clinton and Congress resolved their differences on November 19, “Federal officers were fully functioning again on [November 20, 1995].”  Interpreter Releases, in 1995, predicted, “Given the differences of opinion and the political and budgetary issues at stake, there is no guarantee that a shutdown will not happen again.”

In the event of a government shut down, not all services and functions would be suspended or closed.  “Essential” services and functions will continue during a temporary shut down.  In 1995, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was minimally affected, with approximately 75{b6b8f04f7bd4b863c4cfed8339fd19419bda3e071c79bc5ac8c810cb9c52e30f} of INS employees still working through the shutdown.

Former INS “essential” services that were not affected in 1995 included “Border Patrol and other enforcement functions, including criminal alien investigations and staffing at detention facilities,” as well as inspection at ports of entry.  In addition to “essential” services, former INS “services that are funded primarily by application fees” continued under the shutdown, including the service centers work on nonimmigrant and immigrant visas and naturalization application.  Although some district offices, possibly “due to furloughs of certain staffers,” “refused to assist some individuals appearing in person.”

Other agencies that worked in tandem with the former INS were not as fortunate.  The Department of State (DOS), which oversees consulate services, was one of the hardest hit agencies.  Likewise, the Department of Labor (DOL) was “also forced to shut down many of its operations.”

DOS issued a memorandum to all foreign posts on November 14, 1995, declaring that “routine consular services” such as “visa issuance, were suspended,” during the 1995 shutdown.  DOS deemed “essential services” to include “emergency services to American citizens,” and “truly compelling humanitarian cases, e.g., the issuance of a [nonimmigrant visa] to someone with a critically ill relative in the United States or the issuance of an immigrant visa to an applicant about to turn 21 who would otherwise lose status.”  The consulates had to turn away “thousands of visa-seekers.”  The passport agency division was also affected, so United States Citizens could not obtain a passport except in an emergency.

The Department of Labor (DOL) was similarly affected.  Services were suspended, including the processing and issuance of Labor Condition Applications (LCA).  Suspension of LCA processing indirectly affected the adjudication of H-1B Temporary Worker visas, since generally an LCA must be certified before an H-1B Petition can be filed with USCIS.  If an employer had not already procured a certified LCA before the government shutdown, the employer had to wait until after the shutdown to proceed with an H-1B Petition.

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