(Corrects last name of National Parks Conservation Association budget director to Garder, not Gardner)
By Katharine Jackson and Joseph Ax
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Jan 2 (Reuters) - 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 Hochunk Nation, who was in town from his Wisconsin home to see Sharice Davids get sworn in as one of Congress’ first two women of native American descent. “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 President Donald Trump’s demands for $5.6 billion in congressional funding for a border wall.
National parks, including California’s Joshua Tree and Yosemite, have closed campgrounds after toilets threatened to overflow with human waste. 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. Democrats, who will take control of the U.S. 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 both Trump and Congress.
“It’s stupid,” said Laura Vanbragt, a 20-year-old student from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “There should just be more communication between the two, more give on both sides, a willingness to just talk.”
In California, Joshua Tree National Park said it would close its campgrounds at noon (2000 GMT) on Wednesday because its camp toilets, which cannot be emptied due to a lack of staffing, have reached capacity.
California’s Yosemite National Park closed numerous areas this week for similar reasons.
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,” John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Trash is a serious concern for wildlife.”
Hundreds of judges in the nation’s 62 immigration courts have been furloughed, and only cases of immigrants in detention are currently 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 spokesman 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.
“Oh, so the panda cam at the zoo isn’t an ‘essential government group’?! I BEG TO DIFFER,” wrote a Twitter user named Lindsay Boling.
Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York, additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Gabriella Borter and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas