WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration plans to redirect Transportation Security Administration staff to the U.S. southern border to assist with immigration duties and migrant flows, the TSA said on Wednesday.
A TSA spokesman said the agency was looking for volunteers to support efforts at the U.S. border with Mexico, where the government has said it is grappling with record numbers of people.
“TSA, like all DHS (Department of Homeland Security) 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,” TSA spokesman James Gregory said in a statement.
The TSA border assignment will last at least 45 days and comes at the start of the busy summer travel season, which a U.S. official acknowledged carried “some risk,” according to CNN, which first reported the plan, citing an internal email it obtained.
TSA staff will include 175 law enforcement officials, including air marshals, and as many as 400 security staff drawn from six U.S. cities but will not include airport screeners, CNN said, citing two additional unnamed sources. The six cities were not immediately identified.
TSA law enforcement officials sent to the border will receive legal training and assist the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) department as immigration officers, the report said.
Gil Kerlikowske, who led CBP during the Obama administration, compared the plan to earlier moves by the Trump administration to redeploy hundreds of officers at ports of entry to assist Border Patrol agents with migrants crossing the border illegally.
“All of these things have kind of been stopgap measures,” he said. “They have alleviated some of the problem but not stopped the problem.”
The decision comes as the airline and travel industry urge lawmakers to approve funding for more CBP officers, warning of excessive wait times for travelling and shipping as officers have been shifted to the border.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, said moving TSA agents to the border could disrupt the U.S. economy.
“Further stretching CBP and TSA resources, especially headed into the busiest time of year at our nation’s airports and points of entry, clearly could result in turmoil for business and leisure travel that supports millions of livelihoods all across the country,” said Tori Barnes, the group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy.
The Department of Interior has also doubled the number of officers it is sending for three-week stints to the border, from 22 to 47, The Hill reported on Wednesday, citing an internal memorandum.
Alex Hinson, an Interior Department spokesman, said the agency “continues to support our federal partners in the effort to end the crisis at the southern border,” but declined to give further information.
The U.S. government reported earlier this month that border officers had apprehended nearly 99,000 people crossing the border with Mexico in April, the highest figure since 2007. More than two-thirds of those apprehended were children or people travelling as families.
Separately on Wednesday, the Pentagon said it had received a request from the Department of Homeland Security last week to build temporary facilities at six locations to house and care for at least 7,500 adult migrants.
A Pentagon spokesman told Reuters that the Defense Department would not provide any detention or custodial support for the migrants, but that would be the responsibility of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) agency.
Reuters reported on Saturday that such a request had been made and was expected to be approved by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Mica Rosenberg, Valerie Volcovici and Idrees Ali; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Phil Berlowitz