Federal air marshals are now being sent to the Mexican border to work on immigration duties rather than working to provide security on airline flights at a time of heightened security concerns in air travel from terrorism.
The deployment of the air marshals from their usual security duties comes as Customs and Border Protection has announced it has encountered more than two million migrants, some of whom repeatedly tried to cross the border in fiscal year 2022.
The new data is a marked increase from fiscal year 2021 when there were more than 1.7 million encounters.
In September, federal border authorities apprehended 77,302 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. This is a 245% from September 2021.
|Office of Field Operations (OFO) Total Encounters1
|U.S. Border Patrol Total Encounters2
|Total Enforcement Actions
1 Beginning in March FY20, OFO Encounters statistics include both Title 8 Inadmissibles and Title 42 Expulsions. To learn more, visit Title-8-and-Title-42-Statistics. Inadmissibles refers to individuals encountered at ports of entry who are seeking lawful admission into the United States but are determined to be inadmissible, individuals presenting themselves to seek humanitarian protection under our laws, and individuals who withdraw an application for admission and return to their countries of origin within a short timeframe.
2 Beginning in March FY20, USBP Encounters statistics include both Title 8 Apprehensions and Title 42 Expulsions. To learn more, visit Title-8-and-Title-42-Statistics. Apprehensions refers to the physical control or temporary detainment of a person who is not lawfully in the U.S. which may or may not result in an arrest.
Increasing Risk of Terrorist Activity on Airlines
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cited in an internal email the “immediate need” for more personnel on the Mexican border includes accepting “some risk” of depleted resources in aviation security. Federal air marshals (FAMs) typically fly in plain clothes on commercial flights and are on board the planes to prevent terror attacks.
Federal air marshals are trained to protect commercial passenger flights by deterring and countering the risk of terrorist activity. The agency has described the duties of the air marshals on the border as “welfare checks, entry control, and transportation” of undocumented people who cross the border. It is not surprising that the trained aviation security specialists are not pleased with being deployed to the Mexican border for engaging in duties unrelated to the mission for which they were hired and trained.
Initial Deployments to El Paso and Yuma
The initial round of those deployed will be to El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona. 30 officers and a supervisor will go to El Paso, and 15 officers and a supervisor will go to Yuma. “There will be further deployments on TBD dates,” according to a memo sent to the air marshals. The memo also notes overtime pay is “highly likely.” The temporary assignments will consist of 21-day rotations and may be extended for up to 120 days.
Coping With Multiple Emergencies Stressing Federal Workforce
The administration is obviously trying to cope with several potential emergencies at the same time.
The new directive for the FAMs was issued after the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin. In that Bulletin, he noted: “the nation remains in a heightened threat environment.” He also wrote, “we expect the threat environment to become more dynamic,” specifically noting that the terrorist threat extended to “U.S. critical infrastructure” such as aviation.
An organization called the Federal Security Council issued this comment on the deployments:
The dubious deployments of air marshals to the border while the DHS Secretary warns of additional attacks on the homeland is causing a revolt of sorts within the air marshal community. What’s compounding the issue is apparently not enough air marshals have volunteered for the border duty so the agency has threatened its workforce with termination if they don’t deploy.
Judicial Watch obtained an internal memo sent to Federal Air Marshals. In what may be the first acknowledgment by the Biden administration about the border migration problem, the memo states: “The unprecedented volume of Noncitizen Migrants (NCMs) currently apprehended mandates immediate further action to protect the life and safety of federal personnel and noncitizens in CBP [Customs and Border Protection] custody. To support its mission, CBP is seeking federal employees from DHS Components and other federal agencies to be placed on reimbursable TDY assignments to assist in critical support functions.”
The memo added that “LE/FAMS has been directed by DHS to support this request.”
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has previously declared a border emergency in order to lift the biweekly pay cap for federal employees.