McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — If the federal government shuts down on Sunday then most Homeland Security employees will still have to report to work, including Border Patrol agents, and an important drone program on the border would be grounded, a congressman told Border Report on Thursday.

About 88%, or 226,500 of the 260,000 DHS workers, would still have to work through an unpaid government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX (Cuellar Photo)

Cuellar is the ranking member for the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which is in charge of DHS funds. He says 59,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees would still have to show up on the front lines to work, including Border Patrol agents and CBP officers at U.S. ports of entry.

“I do not want to shut down and I’ve told my Republican friends that I want to sit down with them to work this out,” Cuellar said via Zoom from Washington, D.C., where he admitted to being frustrated as talks stall and the clock ticks down to Saturday night.

“The politics here is just, I hate to say this, but it’s not good for the American public,” he said.

The new fiscal year begins on Sunday and if a continuing resolution or a new budget is not passed then federal workers will not be paid.

Additionally, an important counter-surveillance drone program on the border will not be allowed to operated because it is part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations bill, which expires at midnight on Saturday.

Cuellar says that will jeopardize U.S. border security.

“While we’re dealing with this shutdown, the Mexican cartels will have free skies. They can fly their drones and we will not be able to do our counter-drone program against them,” Cuellar said.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Sept. 21, 2023. If the government shuts down agents would be required to work but wouldn’t get paid until Congress passes budget negotiations. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

The program is part of CBP Air and Marine Operations and costs millions of dollars. It involves U.S. drones launching when Mexicans launch drones over the Rio Grande and into the U.S. border to spy on the borderlands.

Cuellar says this is so they can see whether paths are clear of federal agents in order to haul drugs, or migrants illegally across the river.

“It’s a counter-surveillance program, that Air and Marine, under the Department of Homeland runs. And that is to counter that thousands of drones that are used by the criminal organizations for surveillance, or trying to pass things over to the U.S. side,” Cuellar said.

In addition, 150 new Border Patrol agents who are supposed to start in October won’t if the government is shut down.

“A shutdown would affect every member of the DHS community in some way, putting a strain on our team members’ ability to make ends meet, put food on the table, and more,” DHS said in a statement Thursday.

Other DHS agencies that would require employees to work without pay through a shutdown include:

  • 16,800 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement workers
  • 19,300 FEMA workers
  • 43,000 Coast Guard
  • 58,000 Transportation Security Officers.
  • 6,300 Secret Service.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at