Which is more concerning — the decrease of security theater at airports or the increase of security theater on the border? Six of one, half-dozen of the other:
The Transportation Security Administration plans to send hundreds of officials to help with efforts to deal with migrant inflows on the southern border just as the busy summer travel season begins, according to an internal email obtained by CNN.
The task of the TSA workers, which a source said will include air marshals, will be to assist temporarily with immigration duties. TSA acknowledged in an internal email the “immediate need” comes with the acceptance of “some risk” of depleted resources in aviation security.
TSA plans for the deployments to involve up to 175 law enforcement officials and as many as “400 people from Security Ops,” according to two sources and the email. At least initially, the efforts will not involve uniformed airport screeners, according to the email, which says that some parts of TSA would be asked to contribute “around 10%” of its workforce.
Not only is this a curious choice, the timing is equally curious. The summer travel season will begin shortly, when demand for screeners and their support staff presumably climbs rather than declines. TSA’s PR flacks insist that this won’t impact airport security, but a ten percent reduction in staff has to have some impact on performance, even if one finds TSA performance relatively unimpressive anyway. If taking 10% off the top makes no difference, then perhaps Congress should look into their resourcing decisions in the future.
More to the point, why shift resources from TSA? It’s another agency in the Homeland Security org chart, so the Trump administration can shift those resources without congressional approval. Otherwise, though, there doesn’t seem to be any particular competency calling for TSA to participate in border security. They won’t be there to conduct screenings — they’ll be on the border to cook meals and do maintenance work:
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.
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.
Not to nitpick, but … is that more important than focusing on airport security? Can’t DHS find people to hire to do that work rather than pulling others away from supposedly mission-critical work for the airline industry?
The answer is: of course they can, but they’d have to get the money from Congress. They can’t get the money from Congress because both parties have dug in their heels on immigration policy, and Democrats are still sore over Trump’s use of an emergency decree to fund a border wall. Until both sides are willing to sit down and work out a compromise, DHS has few resources for covering the border, especially with states balking at extended use of National Guard units. It’s budget theater, not actual budgeting.
It’s all quite embarrassing for us, as we can explain when migrants get taken aside to have their junk grabbed and be subjected to “random” searches while standing in line for their food. I’m sure they’ll feed bad for us when that happens.