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US government shutdown likely to extend into 2019
THE US government partial shutdown looks set to stretch deep into next week, and possibly the New Year, after legislators failed on Thursday (Friday morning, Singapore time) to make a breakthrough in the row over US President Donald Trump's controversial demand for a US-Mexico border wall.
After convening for just a few minutes following the official Christmas break, a still nearly empty Senate adjourned, deciding to renew budget deliberations only on Jan 2, the last day of the current Republican-controlled Congress. That would take the government shutdown, already on its sixth day, into 12.
Both sides have dug in, with Democrats refusing to provide US$5 billion for Mr Trump's border wall project and the president insisting he will not fully fund the government unless he gets the money.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders accused Democrats of "openly choosing to keep our government closed to protect illegal immigrants rather than the American people". She said Mr Trump "will not sign a proposal that does not first prioritise our county's safety and security".
As long as the wall debate holds up approval of a wider spending bill, about 800,000 federal employees are not getting salaries and non-essential parts of the government are unable to function.
Mr Trump made clear he does not intend to give way first. In a tweet on Thursday, he once more accused Democrats of wanting to encourage illegal immigrants, "an Open Southern Border and the large scale crime that comes with such stupidity!". "Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking, Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country," he wrote in another tweet, also lambasting "Democrat obstruction of the needed Wall".
Opponents, including some in his Republican party, accuse the president of exaggerating the danger from illegal immigration for his own political gain.
"No end in sight to the President's government shutdown," Dick Durbin, a senior Democratic senator, tweeted. "He's taken our government hostage over his outrageous demand for a US$5 billion border wall that would be both wasteful and ineffective."
Partial government shutdowns are not an unusual weapon in Washington budget negotiations, where party divides make cooperation a rarity.
But the rancour has spiralled under Mr Trump's abrasive administration and is set to go even higher after Jan 3 when the Democrats take over the House of Representatives, following their mid-term election victory in November.
The mess has contributed to worries over the outlook for the US economy in 2019, following a surging 2018 performance.
The stock market has plummeted in recent days, before a record recovery on Wednesday, under a variety of factors including Mr Trump's barrage of criticism against the independent Federal Reserve.
Continuing the see-saw performance, Wall Street opened sharply lower on Thursday but ended solidly higher on bargain hunting.
Large sections of the nearly 3,200km border with Mexico are already divided by fences and other barriers. But immigrants - some fleeing danger and others just looking for jobs - continue to cross illegally.
Mr Trump's critics say that he is trampling over legally protected asylum rights and argue that resources should be channelled into higher-tech alternatives to a wall.
Managing the flow of illegal border crossers has been complicated by a shift from single men to more vulnerable families, including small children.
Two youngsters from Guatemala have died while in custody of the US authorities this month and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that "extraordinary protective measures" were required to handle the flow.
US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned on Wednesday that the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals, as most facilities were built decades ago for men arriving alone.
"We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities," he told CBS News. AFP