The federal agency tasked with overseeing security at transportation hubs has been violating its own policy by allowing migrants who have been released from federal custody onto flights despite not having required documents, according to several Department of Homeland Security officials.
For the past six months, the Transportation Security Administration has allowed migrants released from the custody of other Homeland Security agencies to board flights to other parts of the country despite the passengers lacking any of the 15 documents it states are the only acceptable forms of identification.
Since early December, the agency has avoided temporarily changing federal policy and also not introduced a permanent solution to address this new phenomenon, despite no indication border apprehensions and mass releases are slowing down any time soon.
Since January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released from custody more than 200,000 migrants who arrived at the border as part of a family. The releases are mandatory under a 2015 court ruling that bars ICE from holding families more than 20 days.
ICE often drops people off at bus stations, where nongovernmental organizations that have been alerted to the drop-offs send volunteers to help migrants make travel arrangements to join family members in other cities. The agency then wipes its hands clean following the releases. ICE would not comment on the legal precedent for undocumented immigrants boarding flights in the U.S.
So instead, those looking to depart the border via regional airports become TSA’s burden. If TSA chose to turn away people at airports it would apply more pressure to overwhelmed bus companies like Greyhound and local motels in border towns, complicating an already dire situation for localities struggling to care for this demographic.
TSA was unaware initially which documents its security officers required for migrants to board flights.
Its website states passengers over the age of 18 who are boarding domestic or international flights out of the U.S. “must show valid identification at the airport checkpoint in order to travel.”
Those 15 acceptable forms of ID include the USCIS worker’s document, as well as a driver’s licenses or state ID; U.S. passport or passport card; a DHS-trusted traveler cards; a Defense ID card; permanent resident card; a border crossing card; a DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license; a federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID; an HSPD-12 PIV card; a foreign government-issued passport; a Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card; a transportation worker identification credential; a U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential; and a USCIS Employment Authorization Card (I-766).
A TSA spokesperson initially told the Washington Examiner migrants were allowed to board flights if they could present the document they are given when they apply for asylum. The Notice To Appear, known by DHS as Form I-862, is a paper that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will give to a person who has passed a credible fear screening and will have his or her asylum case decided by a federal judge as many as five years down the road.
TSA said the court order served as the individual’s identification because that person had already gone through a background check while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, ICE, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
However, a USCIS official said TSA’s knowledge of protocol was wrong and that the latter agency would not provide any type of travel authorization document to a person who has passed a credible fear screening. The official said the NTA has one purpose and that was to tell recipients when to show up for court.
With the pushback from USCIS, TSA said another possible document that might be used would be the USCIS employment card.
However, asylum seekers who have been released from custody cannot attain that paper until 180 days after a credible fear claim has been approved.
In its initial statement to the Washington Examiner on its own policy violation, the agency said “TSA accepts identification documentation issued by other government agencies, which is validated through the issuing agency. All passengers are then subject to appropriate screening measures.”
TSA then referred the Washington Examiner to a webpage, which still states, “You will not be allowed to enter the security checkpoint if your identity cannot be confirmed, you chose to not provide proper identification or you decline to cooperate with the identity verification process.”
TSA issued an additional statement after publication.
“All travelers are required to provide proper documentation prior to flying. CBP, ICE and TSA have been working together for years, ensuring that those who are leaving detention facilities are provided with the proper documentation, or given additional information about proper documentation at that time,” a TSA spokesperson said in an email. “TSA has always had protocols in place for those that are unable to produce documentation and need to travel. However, we expect the vast majority of travelers to appear with one of the documents listed on our website.”