ORLANDO, Fla. — One week out from one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, and officials won't give a straight answer about a plan to move 15 customs officers from Orlando International to the U.S.-Mexico border if a caravan of migrants reaches the border.
WFTV Channel 9 first reported the plans Wednesday. The union representing the customs officers said, in all, 175 officers were assigned to the border, but the union representative now says those assignments have been suspended – for now.
On Thursday, Channel 9 asked for Customs and Border Protection for more clarification on the plan and whether Orlando International Airport would be impacted.
"We are moving hundreds of additional CBP personnel into place to ensure our ability to safely address multiple potential contingencies, at and between the Southern California ports of entry," CBP said.
They say 573 customs and 257 border patrol agents are being deployed from across the country.
When Channel 9 asked Homeland Security how that will impact our airports, an official said: “This will have no impact on airport operations."
But Homeland Security stopped short of saying if those officers were still coming from busy airports like Orlando International.
When Channel 9 asked again if there are plans in place to move officers from airports, an official instead referred to the caravan heading toward the southern border. The White House expects 7,000 undocumented people walking through Mexico to arrive at the southern U.S. border soon, with plans to enter the U.S.
A source on Capitol Hill says they believe the administration is backing off airports for now, but not answering specific questions so they can leave the door open to pull officers in the future, if needed.
Going through customs can already take three hours for some passengers because of a staffing shortage.
Sources tell Channel 9 the officers were supposed to be gone for at least 45 days through what some say will be a record-breaking holiday season for travel.
Central Florida U.S. representatives Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto asked CBP for a suspension of assignments until they can ensure there will be no staffing shortages at OIA.
The three lawmakers said cutting staff during the peak season would greatly impact wait times and reduce efficiency of airport operations.
"We are keeping our eye on this issue," Demings said. "Every time we hear about officers being moved from Orlando to go to a problem that was really created by the president, we're going to push back against that."
The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority told Channel 9 it has no control over Customs and Border Protection staffing levels but they will continue to support their operation as much as they can to provide guests and travelers with the best experience possible.
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