Transportation Security Administration employees are being asked to volunteer to deploy to the southern border, causing airport and travel officials to raise concerns about a loss of staff just as the busy summer travel season begins.
The development comes after concerns about U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees being sent from airports and the northern border to the southwest border to help handle the flow of migrants, and the effects on wait times at airports.
Nationally, Customs and Border Protection reassigned 731 officers from airports, seaports and northern border ports to help handle the flow of migrants from Central America that the agency said has “overwhelmed Border Patrol capabilities and facilities.”
The agency said it is “working to mitigate the effects as much as possible” and urged travelers to “plan accordingly” and check Customs wait times.
Now, the call for more staff to be sent to the border is reaching the TSA, which like Customs and Border Protection is under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“TSA, like all DHS components, is supporting the DHS effort to address the humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border,” the agency said in a written statement.
TSA has requested volunteers across its workforce, and says it will impact a few hundred employees out of its workforce of 60,000 nationally. Those volunteers will help with transportation, legal support, distribution of meals and managing personal property — but will not be handling immigration duties at ports of entry, the agency said.
TSA said its security operations will continue uninterrupted.
During busy periods, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport can add its own staff to help direct travelers waiting in line for security checkpoints. Delta Air Lines has also had its employees supplement TSA staff at airports.
“Our goal is to provide the best customer service experience we can. Part of the experience is going through the checkpoint,” said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager John Selden. “Full staffing is critical to ensuring that experience is a positive one.”
Selden said staffing numbers are directly related to how many screening lanes can be open at the same time, and the speed of travelers getting through checkpoints. “Our goal is to ensure it’s balanced throughout the country,” he said.
An industry group, the U.S. Travel Association, said it would closely watch the effects and any disruption to the 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,” U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Barnes said in a written statement.
Hydrick Thomas, the president of the union for TSA officers, the American Federation of Government Employees, issued a statement saying the deployment “means fewer resources will be available for aviation security.”
“The timing of this deployment could not be worse, as we are preparing for yet another busy summer travel season,” Thomas said in the statement. He urged TSA to reconsider its decision.
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