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Border Crisis Disrupting Global Entry Program, Hitting Summer Travel

By Kelly Hoggan

Some airports are reporting 2-3 hour waits to make it through Customs.

The flood of illegal immigrants trying to push through the nation’s southern border is beginning to negatively affect international travel by U.S. citizens upon reentry to the country. For one, U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently announced it was canceling “some” Global Entry interviews through the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30th. CBP officers who usually deal with Global Entry applicant interviews are instead responding to the migrant surge in the southwestern U.S.

This isn’t a welcome development for Americans seeking Global Entry preapproval for expedited customs clearance when they return to the U.S. after traveling internationally. Applicants for Global Entry undergo a rigorous background check coupled with an in-person interview by CBP officers before membership approval. Unfortunately, with staffing shortages already an issue at the customs agency, many officers who conduct Global Entry interviews have instead been sent to deal with illegal immigrants apprehended at the border or who show up making asylum requests.

CBP spokespersons recently said 731 officers have been moved from ports elsewhere around the country and sent to southwestern Border Patrol sectors. These areas are where a crush of migrants from Central America “have overwhelmed Border Patrol capabilities and facilities,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP officers being sent south include those assigned to airports, so expect reentry lines at U.S. airport federal inspection stations to increase due to those staff absences. The agency is urging international travelers to plan accordingly and to check the CBP wait times webpage for the most up-to-date border crossing information.

Those already conditionally approved for Global Entry membership can complete their interviews without an appointment, however, at one of the 50 airports having a “Global Entry on Arrival” program. With program interview appointments limited through September 30th, this may be the best way of seeing approval for membership before the new fiscal year on October 1st.

The ongoing immigration crisis may also have a spillover effect on U.S. travel across the board as well. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversees both CBP and the Transportation Security Administration. DHS has now said it needs additional funding or it may be forced to institute even more program cuts, which would invariably lengthen airport wait times in customs offices as well as TSA checkpoints. Add in that TSA's Pre-Check program -- which greatly cuts the time making it through airport security -- depends in part on background assistance from CBP and its now-absent officers.

TSA officer assignments to the border could begin harming the agency's Pre-check program.

Given the above, it's easy to see just how quickly the nation's summer air travel experience could crash and burn. Federal agencies generally “reprogram” or “reallocate” available money and staff when dealing with unexpected shortfalls of both unless and until Congress approves additional money. DHS is clearly already in the process of doing so, with TSA officers also being sent to the border. With fewer TSA officers, the potential for serious airport security delays grows by the day.

Both the U.S. Senate and House passed supplemental funding bills earlier this week, with the Senate’s version including border enforcement funding where the House’s didn’t. Those bills must be reconciled, and a compromise version approved before it can be sent to President Trump’s desk for signature. The clock is ticking, too, because Congress is due to leave for its month-long 4th of July recess on Friday afternoon of this week. DHS and CBP both say that travel problems will continue and even intensify if additional funds aren’t quickly made available.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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