The Transportation Security Administration requested a few hundred volunteers to deploy to the border to transport migrants, distribute meals and provide legal support, a department official said 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 while undercover, according to four department officials.
The officials spoke on the 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 to the border officials who provide security elsewhere in the country.
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.
The moves have stoked concerns that security risks could go unmonitored, as well as concerns about longer wait times for commercial vehicles at ports of entry, according to two of the homeland security officials.
The number of volunteers from the TSA will account for less than 1% of a workforce of 60,000, and there are no plans to reassign those who screen passengers at airports. The specifics of the reorganization of TSA 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 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, 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 build portions of the wall along the border.
Homeland Security Investigations, the branch of ICE 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 the children they are traveling with 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 department’s former acting undersecretary for intelligence 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.”
Cohen also served as a senior adviser at the agency under 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 workforce to find dynamic solutions and funding to address this very serious problem."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.