Air Marshals Are the Latest Officials Diverted to the Border to Handle the Surge of Migrants

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security has pulled federal agents from airports, from legal border crossings and from deep inside the United States and reassigned them to the southwestern border to grapple with a surge of incoming migrants.

The Transportation Security Administration requested a few hundred volunteers to deploy to the border to transport migrants, to distribute meals and to provide legal support, a homeland security official said on Wednesday. The agents, some of whom will come from the Federal Air Marshal Service and from the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team, usually provide security at airports and on airplanes by blending in with passengers, according to four homeland security officials.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the specifics of the reorganization of security personnel.

It was the latest attempt by the Department of Homeland Security to support overwhelmed Border Patrol agents by diverting officials tasked with providing security elsewhere in the country to the border.

As the number of migrants crossing the southwestern border has increased in recent months, the agency has sent in Coast Guard teams and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who typically conduct criminal investigations. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has requested — and received — military assistance.

This has stoked concerns that security risks could go unmonitored, as well as concerns about longer wait times for commercial vehicles at ports of entry around the country, according to two of the homeland security officials.

The number of volunteers from the T.S.A. will account for less than 1 percent of the 60,000-person work force, and there are no plans to reassign those who screen passengers at airports. The specifics of the reorganization of T.S.A. agents were first reported by CNN.

Last month, more than 98,900 migrants, including more than 58,000 families, illegally crossed the southwestern border at points between the official ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection officials detained 109,144 migrants at the border, including at its legal ports of entry, the highest total since 2007.

“We cannot address this crisis by shifting more resources,” Carla L. Provost, the chief of the Border Patrol, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this month. “It’s like holding a bucket under a faucet. It doesn’t matter how many buckets we have if we can’t turn off the flow.”

In late March, the Coast Guard began deploying 150 officials to the border to provide medical care for migrant families and children and to assist with patrols, according to Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman. The officials previously conducted search-and-rescue missions and medical work.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Thousands of active-duty military troops are also helping the department to build portions of the wall along the border.

Homeland Security Investigations, the branch of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that normally conducts criminal and terrorist investigations, has also assigned 130 agents to the border. Those agents will now conduct DNA tests on some migrants to determine if they are traveling with children who are not their own, part of a pilot program that the department says aims to weed out fraudulent families. They will also be combating human trafficking.

John Cohen, the former acting under secretary for intelligence at the department during the Obama administration, commended the agency for reallocating resources to assist at the border.

But, he said, because of the Trump administration’s “obsession with immigration enforcement” and its failure to confront the migrant surge earlier, “we now have to divert resources from law enforcement and security operations focused on high-risk issues so they can deal with border and immigration issues.”

Mr. Cohen also served as a senior adviser at the agency during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The department has also reassigned 731 Customs and Border Protection agents who usually screen people and vehicles at ports of entry along the northern and southern borders, at harbors and at airports to help process migrants.

“The department is considering all options to address the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, the agency’s acting assistant secretary. “We will continue to work with our work force to find dynamic solutions and funding to address this very serious problem.”

Source: NYT

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