TSA Sending Up To 400 Workers To Southern Border, But Says It Won't Slow Air Travel

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The Transportation Security Administration is preparing to send up to 400 workers to the southern border to assist with the rising number of Central American migrants, but officials say the move shouldn't affect air travel as the summer travel season gets underway.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is primarily responsible for securing the southern border and processing the record numbers of migrants crossing it, has already received help from thousands of National Guardsmen and active-duty military troops. Now, the Trump administration is seeking volunteers from across the federal government to help with the ever-growing number of migrants seeking asylum in the United States.

In a statement, TSA said it's in the "process of soliciting volunteers to support this effort while minimizing operational impact."

According a senior TSA official, the agency is reviewing its 60,000 employees to see which would be most helpful along the border, but officials do not plan to include people who conduct security screenings at U.S. airports. Still, emails obtained by CNN, which first reported the possible deployment, indicate that officials acknowledge there is "some risk" that pulling so many people would diminish their resources and could hurt aviation security.

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A TSA worker helps passengers at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, in Salt Lake City. The government shutdown has generated an outpouring of generosity to TSA agents and other federal employees who are working without pay. In Salt Lake City, airport officials treated workers from the TSA, FAA and Customs and Border Protection to a free barbecue lunch as a gesture to keep their spirits up during a difficult time. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)

The senior TSA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to explain the agency's internal deliberations over the deployment, said employees would focus mostly on support work to free up Border Patrol agents and Customs officers to process migrants. That would include meal preparation, property management, and legal assistance to process the thousands of asylum claims being made each month.

That would be similar to the role National Guardsmen and active-duty military troops have conducted, stringing concertina wire and conducting surveillance while CBP officials do the hands-on work of capturing and processing migrants.

Emails obtained by CNN indicated that some of the volunteers could include air marshals and others from the agency's "Security Ops" unit.

Tori Barnes of the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group charged with boosting travel to and within the U.S., acknowledged the Trump administration's concerns about securing the southern border. But she said the problem would be best addressed by increasing funding for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and making other systemic changes, not by sacrificing security at the nation's airports.

"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," Barnes said.

It's unclear when the deployment would begin. But acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan has said the request is part of a government-wide push to move more employees to the border to deal with a "humanitarian and security crisis."

For example, Customs and Border Protection has redeployed more than 540 of its own officers from ports in San Diego, El Paso and Laredo, Texas, to sections of the border seeing spikes in migrant crossings. That has already led to longer wait times for pedestrians, passenger vehicles and trailers legally crossing the border through those ports of entry.

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