Garbage litters U.S. parks as government shutdown grinds on
Immigration court system is largely closed, and even the National Zoo's Panda Cam is down
Walking across Washington's National Mall on Wednesday, Ralph Snake kept stopping to pick up pieces of garbage, which have littered the grassy corridor since a budget showdown closed one-quarter of the federal government almost two weeks ago.
"I decided to clean up this one section, because that's what Americans will do," said Snake, a 64-year-old member of the Indigenous Ho-Chunk Nation, who was in town from his Wisconsin home to see Sharice Davids be sworn in as one of Congress' first two female Indigenous lawmakers. "Just because this thing is shut down, our hearts aren't shut down."
The partial shutdown, which has cut off numerous government services, entered its 12th day on Wednesday, with no end in sight to the impasse over U.S. President Donald Trump's demands for $5.6 billion US in congressional funding for a border wall.
National parks, including California's Joshua Tree and Yosemite, have closed campgrounds after toilets threatened to overflow. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without pay. The immigration court system, already suffocating under a massive backlog, is largely shuttered.
The prospects for an end to the showdown remained unclear Wednesday. Democrats, who will take control of the House of Representatives on Thursday, have scheduled votes that day to fund the government without money for a border wall, one of Trump's key priorities.
The president, who said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, has already rejected the Democrats' legislation.
In Washington, the 17 museums run by the Smithsonian as well as the National Zoo closed their doors on Wednesday after running out of emergency funding, leaving tourists frustrated with Trump and Congress.
"It's stupid," said Laura Vanbragt, a 20-year-old student from Grand Rapids, Mich. "There should just be more communication between the two, more give on both sides, a willingness to just talk."
Unlike in some previous shutdowns, including a 16-day impasse in 2013, many national parks have remained open, though without staff to collect trash and service restrooms. Advocates have voiced alarm that an extended shutdown could cause environmental damage.
"We're very concerned about the reports we're seeing of human waste in inappropriate places," said John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"Trash is a serious concern for wildlife."
Rescheduling immigration cases could take years
Hundreds of judges in the nation's 62 immigration courts have been furloughed, and only cases of immigrants in detention are being heard.
The Trump administration has expanded the system, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice, aiming to cut down on the backlog of more than 800,000 cases, but the shutdown will complicate that effort, said Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the national immigration judges' union.
"To reschedule these cases can take several years because the judges are all booked," she said.
A Justice Department spokesperson said he could not respond to a request for comment because of the government shutdown.
With the National Zoo closed, the Panda Cam, a popular live video stream of the zoo's three giant pandas, also went
offline, causing consternation among fans of Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bei Bei.