With Air Marshals Deployed to Biden’s Border Disaster, Cruz Wants Answers from TSA on Flight Risks

October 4, 2023

Redirecting air marshals to border risking safety of flying public

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With illegal immigrant encounters on the southwest border having reached the highest-ever monthly total, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today sent a letter to the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) demanding answers on whether the deployment of federal air marshals to assist along the southwest border is risking the safety of the flying public.

In addition to highlighting the hypocrisy of an administration that consistently downplays the severity of the border crisis while assigning air marshals to assist Border Patrol, the letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske explains that the shortage of air marshals aboard flights puts the flying public at risk. The Federal Air Marshal Service is notably the only federal law enforcement program solely focused on protecting the nation’s air transportation system.

Last year, air marshals objected to the Biden administration’s mandated deployments to the border to assist Border Patrol agents, potentially risking their jobs. This would be understandable if the air marshals were assisting with security. But the Biden administration is not asking them  to help enforce the law. Instead, the air marshals are assisting with administrative processes and welfare checks.

As Sen. Cruz writes:

As the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (“Committee”), I write regarding the Transportation Security Administration’s (“TSA”) deployment of hundreds of air marshals in the Federal Air Marshal Service (“FAMS”) to the southern border to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) in administering aid to illegal aliens. It is concerning that the administration has prioritized ushering illegal immigrants into the country over protecting the lives and safety of the traveling public.

FAMS plays a critical role in ensuring safe air travel. While air marshals have guarded the American skies since 1961, FAMS was expanded significantly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Within ten years, the program went from a few dozen air marshals to a few thousand as Congress authorized the TSA to deploy air marshals on “every [passenger] flight determined by the Administrator to present high security risks.”

Today, many miles below the skies that the air marshals are charged to protect, the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has devolved into chaos.  Since President Biden took office, CBP officials have encountered over 6.2 million illegal aliens along the southern border.  That figure is in addition to the more than 1.6 million illegal alien “gotaways” who have successfully crossed the southern border undetected, for a total of more than 7.8 million illegal crossings. Moreover, more than 150 individuals on the FBI terror watch list have been apprehended at the southern border since the beginning of the current fiscal year. The Biden administration nevertheless refuses to declare the crisis at our southern border a national emergency or even publicly admit that it is indeed a crisis, a fact even the liberal news media is now willing to acknowledge. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stubbornly insists the border is “secure” and that the Biden administration maintains “operational control,” a claim his own border patrol chiefs dispute.

Compounding the hypocrisy, while the administration maintains that the border is secure, it also continues to reassign air marshals from protecting the skies to the southern border. Reports show that deployed air marshals are not even performing tasks related to safety and security like they would be if they were still in the air.  Instead, they are performing administrative functions, conducting welfare checks, and escorting aliens to processing centers. Despite what the TSA has told Committee staff, it appears that most air marshals are not voluntarily choosing to go to the border but rather are being forced to—either explicitly or implicitly—by TSA. These actions have attracted the attention of the DHS Office of the Inspector General, and an investigation is currently underway concerning TSA’s management of taxpayer resources.

Security incidents continue to occur in the sky, meaning TSA’s decision to take air marshals off flights and deploy them to the border may be putting the traveling public at risk. For example, during a Jet Blue flight from New York to Salt Lake City last November, a passenger held a straight edge razor to another passenger’s throat and threatened her life. In March of this year, a passenger on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston attempted to open the emergency door and kill everyone on board. Thankfully the other passengers and crew subdued the individuals, but these events should never have happened in the first place. While it is unknown whether air marshals would have been on those particular flights, what is known is that on both occasions at least 200 air marshals were busy assisting at the southern border and would not have been available to protect those flights.

Since the beginning of September, illegal aliens have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at alarmingly high rates, and the number of air marshals dispatched to the border has increased, with numerous requests for medical leave reportedly being denied by supervisors. Given the administration’s failed immigration enforcement approach, it seems likely that TSA’s deployment of air marshals to the border—instead of to high-risk passenger flights—will unfortunately continue.

Among other questions, Sen. Cruz is requesting the number of air marshals that have been deployed to the border since 2019, the duration of each deployment “round,” the tasks air marshals are performing at the border, and the names of those at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who authorized or approved each recent deployment. Sen. Cruz also requested details regarding recent airborne incidents and how the TSA designates flights as “high risk.

Read the full text of this letter HERE.