TSA chief says hundreds of workers have been deployed to border

Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees have been deployed to the southern border to assist in immigration enforcement, the head of the agency told lawmakers on Tuesday, as the administration continues to push Congress to approve more funding.

At a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said between 350 to 400 agents have been sent to the border. He reiterated the administration’s request that Congress pass an emergency bill to boost enforcement as the number of migrants crossing into the U.S. continues to reach near-record highs.

“We do have an emergency supplemental … that will address a lot of issues at the southwest border, and I would urge consideration and passage of that supplemental,” Pekoske said.

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The “emergency supplemental” refers to a $4.5 billion aid bill requested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the beginning of May. Since then, top DHS officials, including Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, have underscored the need for the emergency funds. The House cleared a procedural hurdle toward passage in a vote Tuesday evening.

Acting TSA Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell outlined the deployment of TSA officers in a briefing with reporters last week. She said the agency “put out a broadcast message across our workforce encouraging and asking people to volunteer for this job.” Officers are deployed on a 45-day cycle and are given the choice to return home or extend their stay.

The deployment comes ahead of a travel season that’s expected to break records. When asked whether diverting TSA workers could impact the safety of air travel, Pekoske said, “it doesn’t take away at all from [TSA’s] security mission,” and noted there are a “relatively small number” of officers on the southern border. According to Pekoske, the TSA conducts a thorough examination of each employee’s home airport to make sure it’s adequately staffed before sending the worker to the border.

At the end of the hearing, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee chair, asked Pekoske about the conditions at detention centers housing migrant children, some of whom have not been given necessities like toothbrushes or soap. “That should concern all of us, don’t you agree?” Cummings asked.

“I would agree completely, sir,” Pekoske said.

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