US members of Congress and airport stakeholders reacted with apprehension to reports that TSA will divert hundreds of agents from airports to the southwestern border with Mexico to deal with a surge of migrant crossings, following separate Customs and Border Protection (CBP) diversions of hundreds of CBP Officers to the US-Mexico border earlier in May.

The deployments were initially reported May 15 by CNN, citing internal agency emails that said up to 175 law enforcement officials and as many as 400 people from TSA Security Ops, as well as federal air marshals, would be sent to the border to relieve logistical challenges posed by the large number of migrants there.

“DHS cannot risk diverting resources critical to its core counterterrorism mission—such as air marshals—to the border to assist as support staff for CBP,” House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) said in a statement to ATW. “There is no evidence this will improve the humanitarian crisis at the border. Taking officers off planes and out of airports will not make the country safer.”

Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) VP-communications and marketing Scott Elmore said US airports are “very concerned that the deployment of TSA Transportation Security Officers to the border will further deplete limited staffing at security checkpoints and contribute to even longer passenger wait times.”

Elmore also said Congress should eliminate the diversion of one-third of passenger security fee revenue this fiscal year to non-aviation security functions—funds he said would be better spent to “ensure TSA has adequate staffing resources so all security checkpoint lanes are fully operational, particularly during high-volume periods.”

TSA spokeswoman Jenny Burke said in an email the agency has requested volunteers across its workforce, which will impact “a few hundred” of its 60,000 employees. She said volunteers will support functions including transportation, distribution of food, personal property management and legal support—but will not conduct immigration duties at ports of entry.

“TSA, like all Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components, is supporting the DHS effort to address the humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border. TSA is in the process of soliciting volunteers to support this effort while minimizing operational impact,” Burke said.

US Travel Association EVP-public affairs and policy Tori Barnes said in a statement that “further stretching CBP and TSA resources” heading into the peak summer travel season, “clearly could result in turmoil for business and leisure travel that supports millions of livelihoods across the country.”

“Additional funding is essential, but further systemwide reforms are needed to ensure the full functionality of these crucial agencies,” Barnes said. “We urge the administration and Congress to immediately engage in a thorough and intensive discussion about appropriate resourcing for all of DHS’s vital functions in the face of current challenges.”

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com