U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel along with DoD personnel secure the San Ysidro Port of Entry against attempts to illegally enter the United States from Mexico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel along with DoD personnel secure the San Ysidro Port of Entry against attempts to illegally enter the United States from Mexico. Mani Albrecht / U.S. Customs and Border Protection file photo

The Homeland Security Department Would See a Staffing Surge Under a New Bipartisan Bill

The measure would address longstanding shortages at U.S. ports of entry.

A new bipartisan measure would require the Homeland Security Department to increase its hiring, seeking to reverse years of understaffing at U.S. ports of entry. 

The Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act would require Customs and Border Protection to hire at least 600 additional officers per year until the agency meets its staffing goals. The agency has for years decried its high vacancy rate, with the Obama administration saying it was short thousands of necessary staff at U.S. ports. The Trump administration focused on hiring at other parts of DHS, which largely went unfunded and unfilled.

The bill would also authorize hiring for more support staff, which lawmakers said would allow law enforcement to focus on their jobs. It would provide better infrastructure and equipment to protect officers who inspect international goods and are potentially exposed to dangerous drugs and toxins. 

Staffing shortages “threaten CBP’s ability to facilitate safe and lawful trade and travel across our borders,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and introduced the bill. “We must ensure these dedicated officers, who have served on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, have the support they need to perform critical functions, like detecting and preventing illegal drugs from reaching our communities.”  

Eventually, Congress—while still ignoring Trump’s requests to dramatically boost hiring at the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement—provided funding to increase staffing at CBP’s Office of Field Operations. CBP still has a shortage of nearly 1,000 officers, according to agency data, and that number would double if traffic gets back to pre-pandemic levels.  

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the measure would prevent CBP from reallocating resources and pulling employees from their normal duties. DHS has regularly deployed staff away from their normal posts to confront various migrant surges at the border. 

“When CBP officers are pulled off their posts, we run the risk of legitimate trade and travel grinding to a halt,” Cornyn said. “This bill aims to address the ongoing crisis at the border while protecting the flow of trade through our ports.”

The measure won support from unions representing both CBP officers and Border Patrol personnel. 

“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 Hector Garza, 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.”

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, has for years called on Congress to provide more staffing resources at CBP. 

“It is clear that our ports of entry are understaffed and employees have stepped up to keep operations moving,” Reardon said. “Now that international trade and travel are recovering, Congress needs to increase their ranks.”