WASHINGTON -- Democrats raised concerns Tuesday that the Transportation Security Administration's ongoing problems with high turnover rates could worsen after the Trump administration announced it would send 400 TSA workers to the southwest border to help with the migrant surge.
"I think what I see now is continued manufacturing of a crisis, to the detriment of TSA and some other agencies, which should not be," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., House Homeland Security chairman, said at a Tuesday hearing on the TSA workforce crisis. "I'm concerned that we are now putting airports at risk potentially, as well as the traveling public at risk in general, by taking people away from airports and sending them to the border."
Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee also raised questions about whether the nation's airport security forces are properly trained to assist Border Patrol agents after USA Today reported that TSA workers reallocated to the border will be assisting in meal preparation, property management and legal assistance for asylum petitioners.
"We can talk about the border, the refugee crisis is a major issue, but I'll tell you what they are guarding against at major airport is individuals who have a goal and intent to bring down one of our planes," said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif. "We have to make sure these individuals are paid correctly so that the turnover goes down so that we can remain safe."
GOP lawmakers pointed out that the recent deployment of TSA workers to the border highlights how the situation at the southern border is escalating.
"It is a concern to move TSA employees to the border, even though they did so voluntarily in my understanding, but it just goes to show the crisis we have down at the border," Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said.
The 400 volunteers from TSA are coming from all divisions, Department of Homeland Security officials said, including front-line officers, headquarters personnel and federal air marshals. "We will minimize volunteers from airports that have attrition issues and will monitor operations to ensure volunteers are strategically selected to minimize impact," a DHS official, who did not want to be identified, said in a statement.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called what's happening at the southern border a "humanitarian crisis" and has deployed thousands of National Guard and active-duty troops to the southern border to assist Border Patrol personnel as the monthly border apprehension numbers continue to rise.
In April, 109,144 individuals were apprehended at the southwest border, which included individuals who turned themselves in openly to Border Patrol and those deemed "inadmissible" or caught entering the U.S. illegally, according to DHS. April was the second month in a row in which the monthly number of border apprehensions exceeded more than 100,000.
J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that TSA officers are not trained to perform the work they'll be conducting at the border.