May 29, 2019

Cortez Masto Sends Letter on National Security Impact of TSA Agents Reassigned to Southern Border

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) led a letter supported by nine senators to the United States Department of Homeland Security to raise concerns over the Trump administration’s decision to reassign Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to work at the southern border with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The move poses risks to our national security, especially given chronic TSA understaffing during the busy summer travel season.

“Every day, TSA is responsible for ensuring the security of approximately two million passengers traveling aboard over 22,000 international and domestic flights,” said the senators. “TSA plays a critical role in protecting our national security and maintaining an essential part of the U.S. economy. Significant resources are needed to fulfill these responsibilities and in recent years further investments and improvements have been identified. Rather than make these necessary improvements, we are concerned the administration’s decision to reassign agents may undermine TSA’s security operations. TSA officials have acknowledged that moving agents to work on our southern border carries risk to our national security, a risk that is further heightened by choosing to reassign agents just before the summer’s busy travel season. Airport officials have reiterated this concern, arguing that such a move could hinder their security operations. Taking TSA agents away from their mission depletes resources from a critical national security agency that must focus on staying ahead of the dynamic threat to aviation.”

In addition to Senator Cortez Masto, U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) and Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.) also cosigned this letter.

A full copy of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:

We write to express our concerns regarding the reassignment of Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) agents to our southern border. Press reports indicate that reassigned staff will include 175 law enforcement officials, including air marshals, and as many as 400 security staff.

Every day, TSA is responsible for ensuring the security of approximately two million passengers traveling aboard over 22,000 international and domestic flights. TSA plays a critical role in protecting our national security and maintaining an essential part of the U.S. economy. Significant resources are needed to fulfill these responsibilities and in recent years further investments and improvements have been identified. Rather than make these necessary improvements, we are concerned the administration’s decision to reassign agents may undermine TSA’s security operations. TSA officials have acknowledged that moving agents to work on our southern border carries risk to our national security, a risk that is further heightened by choosing to reassign agents just before the summer’s busy travel season. Airport officials have reiterated this concern, arguing that such a move could hinder their security operations. Taking TSA agents away from their mission depletes resources from a critical national security agency that must focus on staying ahead of the dynamic threat to aviation.

We acknowledge the recent increase in apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied minors at the border has created extremely difficult conditions for Border Patrol personnel. However, the administration’s misguided approach has only exacerbated these problems at our southern border. Instead of approaching the humanitarian crisis in Central America with a holistic strategy that addresses the root causes driving women and children away from their homes, President Trump recently said he intends to cut previously-approved funding for aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Instead, Congress is ready to work with the administration to provide conditional assistance to Central American governments, enhance processing of asylum seekers, strengthen refugee resettlement programs in the region, and hire additional immigration judges to process the backlog of cases in our immigration court.

We urge you to reconsider the decision to reassign TSA agents to work with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) along the southern border. Given the short window of time in which the administration plans to implement this policy and the insufficient level of information provided to the public about this decision, we respectfully request that you provide answers to the following questions within 30 days. We also request that you provide a briefing to Senators on the current Department of Homeland Security personnel at the border.

  1. Which TSA officials will be eligible to be reassigned to the southern border?
    • Please provide a list of the number of agents reassigned, including corresponding job titles and the cities in which they work.
  2. Are additional efforts being taken to ensure TSA will be adequately prepared to handle the high volume of travelers expected this summer? If so, please describe those efforts in detail.
  3. What specific training will CBP provide to TSA agents?
    • Please describe the child and family welfare training that TSA agents will receive.

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to your response. 

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