The Department of Homeland Security is “retasking” hundreds of Transportation Security Administration employees to the United States-Mexico border to assist with the frontline immigration process in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on United States Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
CNN reports that 175 of the TSA’s “law enforcement officials” and up to 400 of its “security ops” personnel, including a number of air marshals, are being sent to the southern border “to help with efforts to deal with migrant inflows.”
Luckily for our national security, the 600 or so TSA employees being retasked to immigration will not be from the TSA’s airport screening segment, so the border will be better protected and the domestic United States will still be safe from 4 oz water bottles. But some parts of the TSA will be expected to commit up to 10% of their work force to border security efforts.
“There is now immediate need for more help from TSA at the SW border,” a TSA spokesperson wrote in a statement to employees. “TSA has committed to support with 400 people from Security Ops” who, the official added, will be “deployed in waves” similar to how they are deployed in an emergency situation.
The TSA says it hopes that airport security will be only minimally affected, even though the summer is the busiest time for public-facing members of the TSA.
The Department of Homeland Security admitted that the situation is not ideal, but that each department within Homeland Security is expected to contribute when one department is under water, as is the case with border patrol, and that they’re trying their best to select the appropriate people for the job, which will involve a temporary deployment to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, or California.
“TSA, like all DHS components, is supporting the DHS effort to address the humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border. TSA is in the process of soliciting volunteers to support this effort while minimizing operational impact,” a DHS spokeswoman told CNN.
DHS and other government entities are doing what they can to help alleviate the illegal immigration crisis developing on the southern border. Illegal border crossings set a record in the first quarter of 2019, and the number of monthly crossings have reliably topped 100,000 since February; most of these crossings are not at official border security checkpoints. Of the 110,000 immigrants apprehended in the month of April, only 10,000 were caught trying to sneak through official points of entry.
The crisis is fueled by migrant caravans, bringing thousands upon thousands of people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, through Mexico to the southern border. Most of the “migrants” who follow the caravans are part of family units, and most are seeking asylum in the United States, not temporary work.
DHS reported last week that the majority of migrants making the journey are “family units,” making things even more difficult for CBP and ICE. Family units cannot be held together in custody for more than 21 days, and the public is largely opposed to separating family units. The number of border crossers has put a strain on resources and backed up asylum courts.
CBP isn’t capable of holding massive numbers of migrants for extended periods of time — they simply don’t have the facilities — but the Trump administration also doesn’t want immigration authorities to engage in the practice of “catch-and-release,” that is, giving immigration court hearing dates to family units requesting asylum and then releasing them into the U.S. without supervision.
DHS is experimenting with a number of solutions, including allowing CBP officials to make early determinations as to whether an immigrant family fits some of the basic criteria for claiming asylum. They’re also deploying National Guard units, other DHS employees, and now the TSA to the border to help handle the overflow and conduct investigations.