Peters, Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Staffing Shortages at Ports of Entry

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and John Cornyn (R-TX) today introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen border security and address personnel shortages at ports of entry on the Southern and Northern borders, as well as in the interior. The Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019 would fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry by requiring U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire no less than 600 additional officers a year until the agency’s staffing needs 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.

According to an analysis of CBP data, there is a shortage of almost 4,000 CBP Officers nationwide. This week, 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. If these reassignments continue, they 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.

“Customs and Border Protection Officers carry out an essential national security mission by protecting our communities while facilitating the lawful trade and travel that drives our economy,” said Senator Peters. “But potential staffing shortages at our ports of entry in Michigan and across the country, driven by reassignments to the southwest border, could seriously undermine Customs and Border Protection’s mission to detect and deter illegal activity, like opioid trafficking, and increase wait times for lawful goods coming into the country that businesses rely on. This legislation will help strengthen security at ports of entry across the country for years to come.”

“Texas is home to 29 air, land, and sea Ports of Entry –more than any other state in the nation – including the busiest inland port along the entire U.S.-Mexico border,” Senator Cornyn said. “Our Customs and Border Protection officers have the important task of not only keeping us safe, but also ensuring that the legitimate trade and travel our economy relies on can continue to flow swiftly through our ports. This bill goes a long way to ensure CBP has the adequate resources, staffing, and infrastructure they need to help keep our ports safe and running efficiently.”

CBP currently has 23,465 CBP Officers on board, but their workforce staffing models have indicated a need for 27,187 CBP Officers – a gap of almost 4,000. 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 is supported by a broad coalition of groups including the National Border Patrol Council, the National Treasury Employees Union, the American Association of Port Authorities, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Airports Council International and the American Association of Airport Executives.

“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.”

“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.”