Peters, Cornyn Bill to Address Staffing Shortages at Ports of Entry Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – Bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to strengthen border security and address law enforcement shortages at ports of entry throughout the country advanced in the Senate today. The legislation was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where Peters serves as the Ranking Member. The Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019 would fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry by directing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire no less than 600 additional officers a year until the agency’s own staffing targets are met. Michigan and Texas are home to some of the nation’s busiest border crossings including ports of entry in Detroit and Port Huron, Michigan and Laredo, Brownsville and El Paso, Texas.

“The day-to-day operations of businesses in Michigan and throughout the country depend on the secure flow of goods and people through our nation’s ports of entry. But law enforcement shortages at Customs and Border Protection have threatened the agency’s ability to carry out their core functions, including the smooth movement of lawful trade and travel at our Northern and Southern borders,” said Senator Peters. “Our bill will help address the serious challenges at our Southern border without uprooting CBP officers from their posts around the nation. I’m proud to have spearheaded this effort with Senator Cornyn and pleased the committee approved this important bill.”

“When CBP officers are pulled off their posts, we run the risk of legitimate trade and travel grinding to a halt,” Senator Cornyn said. “Nowhere do we feel this more acutely than in Texas where we have more Ports of Entry than any other state. This bill aims to address the ongoing crisis at the border while protecting the flow of trade through our ports.”

According to an analysis of CBP data, there is a shortage of almost about 3,300 CBP Officers nationwide. To bridge that gap, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the authorization of CBP Officers – possibly exceeding 2,000 officers – to be voluntarily reassigned to sectors across the southwest border. Last month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced plans to further supplement border security efforts by sending up to 175 law enforcement officials – including air marshals – and as many as 400 volunteers to the southern border. These reassignments could lead to staffing shortages at other critical land ports of entry, medium & small airports and seaports on the Southern and Northern borders. Reduced personnel numbers at other ports could threaten CBP’s capacity to carry out critical immigration, trade and health related inspections and to interdict illegal drugs shipments. These overstretched law enforcement officials play a particularly important role in combatting drug trafficking. For example, according to CBP’s 2013-2017 Opioid Seizure Data, 88 percent of all opioids seized by Customs and Border Protection are discovered at ports of entry. Just this week, CBP Officers seized more than 16 tons of cocaine from a ship at a Philadelphia port, calling it one of the largest drug busts in American history.

Last month, Senator Peters helped lead a bipartisan congressional delegation visit to assess the security needs and humanitarian challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border. During the visit, Peters met with officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, and participated in routine patrols with U.S. Border Patrol personnel. The delegation also received a briefing from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), discussed security challenges with local law enforcement officials, and met with non-governmental organizations assisting with humanitarian needs.

CBP currently has 23,898 CBP Officers on board, but their workforce staffing models have indicated a need for 27,251 CBP Officers – a gap of over 3,300. Despite this gap, Congress and the Executive Branch have both failed to address this serious vulnerability. In addition to hiring more CBP Officers, the bill also authorizes the annual hiring of mission support staff and technicians to perform non-law enforcement functions in support of CBP. These professionals will allow CBP officers to focus their efforts on law enforcement priorities while supporting lawful international commerce through the nation’s ports of entry. The bill also requires reporting on infrastructure improvements at ports of entry that would enhance drug interdiction, information on detection equipment that would improve the ability of officers to identify drugs, and safety equipment to protect officers from accidental exposure to dangerous toxins.  

The legislation has received support from a broad coalition of groups, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Border Patrol Council, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the American Association of Port Authorities, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Airports Council International and the American Association of Airport Executives.

Below are statements in support of the Senators’ bipartisan legislation:

“International trade and travel are critical to our economy and way of life. U.S. Customs and Border Protection plays a critical role in safeguarding our borders from dangerous people and materials, and in enhancing the nation’s global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel,” said Neil L Bradley, Executive Vice President & Chief Policy Officer at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “While the volume of commerce crossing our borders has more than tripled in the past 25 years, CBP staffing has not kept pace with demand. S. 1004 would help address this problem by enabling CBP to hire inspectors who are critical to executing the agency’s mission. Providing additional CBP officers at this time of growing volumes of international passengers and cargo would reduce lengthy wait times, help stop the flow of illicit drugs, and facilitate new economic opportunities throughout the United States.”

“Securing the border is a partnership. Border Patrol Agents work hand in glove with Customs and Border Protection Officers every single day. There is an alarming shortage of CBP Officers at our nation’s ports of entry, putting an added strain on an already overextended law enforcement workforce,” said Albert Trevino, National Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council. “This bill represents a bipartisan, commonsense first step towards addressing the staffing crisis at the agency and ensuring that our ports of entry have trained personnel needed to secure our borders. I want to thank Ranking Member Peters and Senator Cornyn for their hard work in crafting this essential legislation and for their continued support of law enforcement officials across America.”

“The understaffed ports of entry are finally getting the attention they deserve as Congress contemplates multiple proposals to boost staffing levels and provide adequate funding for CBP’s port operations,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “The men and women of CBP are grateful for the support and eagerly await final passage of legislation that takes an important step toward giving them the personnel and resources they need to facilitate legitimate trade and travel and interdict illicit goods and drugs.”

“The American Association of Port Authorities applauds Ranking Member Peters for his leadership in addressing the CBP staffing shortfall at our nation’s seaports where the need for a sustainable and robust CBP workforce is critical,” said Kurt Nagle, President and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities. “Since 2001, container volumes have increased by 71 percent, total foreign trade in short tons increased by 37 percent and passenger traffic at U.S. cruise ports increased by 98 percent. CBP is a vital partner for ensuring that freight and passenger facilitation through ports is efficient, safe and secure. The ‘Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019’ requires, at a minimum, hiring 600 new CBP officers annually above attrition. This bill is a positive step forward in expanding CBP staffing to the necessary and appropriate levels to keep America and our freight transportation moving.”

“The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association applauds Senator Peters for introducing Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019,” said Nate Catura, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “It will provide a significant number of desperately needed officers and support staff which will make our ports of entry more secure. In addition, the required reporting requirements on infrastructure, manpower use, and agreements will provide the Committee with useful data to ensure these resources are properly utilized and result in positive improvements at our borders.”

“The airport industry thanks Senator Peters and Cornyn for their leadership in introducing the Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act,” said Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of Airports Council International – North America. “This legislation is an important step towards ensuring CBP has sufficient staffing to both address lengthy passenger wait times and open new air service opportunities in communities around the country. It also will provide greater transparency and accountability to CBP’s increasing reliance on reimbursable services agreements and temporary duty assignments to cover its system-wide staffing shortfalls.”

“Over the past five years, international travel to the United States has increased by more than 25 percent; however the number of Customs and Border Protection officers available to process new flights and additional travelers has barely budged,” said Todd Hauptli, CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives. “CBP has long struggled with hiring and retaining officers at our nation’s ports of entry. But more recently, these staffing shortages have led to reassignments that have exacerbated lengthy wait times to process international arrivals at some airports, particularly those that were already short-staffed. On behalf of the thousands of men and women across the country who manage and operate the nation’s airports, we strongly support this effort to address CBP staffing issues and look forward to working with Senators Peters and Cornyn to gain passage of this important bipartisan legislation.”

“Every year, Great Lakes shipping supports millions of dollars in international commerce that drives economic growth in Great Lakes states like Michigan,” said Steven Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association. “Customs and Border Protection staff are a crucial part of protecting our national security and facilitating safe trade through Great Lakes ports. I support Senators Peters and Cornyn’s bipartisan legislation, which will help to ensure that Great Lakes ports can continue to serve as a secure and vital hub for international commerce.”

“The Detroit-Windsor border crossing is one of the busiest in the entire country – and for too long we have had to work without adequate staffing to handle the workload,” said Robert Holland, President of National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 173 in Detroit. “Tasking overworked and fatigued officers with securing our ports of entry puts the safety of all Americans at risk. Unfortunately, this situation will only be exacerbated by the redeployment of officers to supplement staffing at the southern border. The first step in securing our borders is ensuring that we have the boots on the ground necessary to man our nation’s ports of entry. Senator Peters’ bill will help to accomplish that goal, and he has my full support in securing its passage.”

“Businesses and communities across West Michigan rely on the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to securely and quickly process travelers and goods. In order to keep commerce flowing, we need enough Customs and Border Protection Officers to conduct thorough cargo inspections and cut down on wait times,” said Brian Picardat, Interim President and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. “We applaud Senators Peters and Cornyn for their leadership on this bipartisan legislation to help hire more personnel and ensure that critical regional airports like ours won’t be negatively impacted by the longstanding staffing shortage at Customs and Border Protection. This bill will also help in our effort to establish and fully staff a Federal Inspection Station at our airport to provide our customers with in-demand international service.”

“Billions of dollars in goods cross our Northern border every year, supporting thousands of jobs in Michigan. Unfortunately, staffing shortages at Customs and Border Protection have the potential to cause disruption and delay that could result in long-term damage to Michigan’s economy and security,” said Jeannette Bradshaw, President of the Michigan Maritime Trades Port Council. “Having more agents will allow for safer and more efficient maritime commerce on the Great Lakes, and I appreciate Senators Peters and Cornyn’s bipartisan leadership to address this serious issue.”

“As Sheriff, my highest priority is ensuring the safety and security of St. Clair County and all of its residents,” said St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon. “The vast majority of drugs that are smuggled into this country come through legitimate ports of entry, and having more CBP personnel in places like Port Huron will help us keep our communities safe and fight illegal activity like opioids trafficking. I appreciate Senators Peters and Cornyn working together in a bipartisan way to help hire additional qualified CBP Officers who can work alongside local law enforcement to protect Americans from harm.”