by Jennie Taer
Republican lawmakers are raising concerns over illegal migrants without identification traveling on commercial flights throughout the country, according to an email exclusively obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The email revealed that the national vetting center used by TSA processed over 42,000 non-citizens and non-U.S. nationals requesting document validation between the first of the year and mid-October.
Republican Texas Rep. Lance Gooden has been probing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as part of his office’s investigation into whistleblower documents alleging an operation to move migrants across the country without standard documentation.
Gooden, along with Republican Reps. David McKinley of West Virginia and Mary Miller of Illinois sent a formal letter on Nov. 15 to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, asking about the possible national security implications of allowing illegal migrants to fly “without proper identification.”
TSA has yet to respond to the letter. However, the DCNF obtained an email the agency sent to Gooden’s office about the process of clearing migrants to access secure areas of the airport.
"This creates significant national security risks when millions of Americans are traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday," Rep. Gooden continued.
— Henry Rodgers (@henryrodgersdc) November 17, 2021
TSA said it accepts alternate forms of identification including a Notice to Appear (NTA) in court, according to the email. Before obtaining an NTA, or another Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE)/U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) document, border agents would have processed a migrant’s biometrics, taken photos of them, and run their fingerprints through immigration and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) databases, according to CBP. Any names given to border agents are the names that are processed unless the biometric data matches other names, according to CBP.
Gooden told the DCNF that on a recent trip to the southern border, CBP agents told him that NTAs aren’t adequate documents to ensure a traveler’s identity.
“When I asked a border patrol officer about TSA allowing migrants to fly with no identification, they told me a Notice to Appear is not sufficient identification and they often have to take migrants at their word that they are who they say they are,” Gooden said. “TSA and non-profit groups are putting millions of Americans travelling for Christmas at risk by allowing these unknown and unvetted migrants to board planes and fly across the country.”
According to TSA, there is a process for vetting individuals with alternate forms of identification.
“The TDC [TSA’s Travel Document Checker] typically verifies the traveler’s identity using an acceptable form of ID (e.g., government-issued IDs such as driver licenses or passports not expired more than one year),” TSA said in the email. “In coordination with its DHS counterparts, TSA has also identified alternate forms of ID for use in special circumstances at the checkpoint, circumstances such as non-U.S. citizens or non-nationals who do not have an acceptable form of ID.”
They added: “For travelers in normal circumstances who lack acceptable or alternate forms of ID, TSA calls the National Transportation Vetting Center (NTVC), which attempts to verify a traveler’s identity by using the individual’s information along with information from various government and commercial databases.”
For migrants traveling with DHS or ICE/CBP documents, such as an NTA, the TDC looks for the alien identification number. To validate the document, TSA says it either uses the CBP One phone application to search the individual in a CBP database or it calls the NTVC to search an immigration document’s number and match it to the traveler’s name and boarding pass.
Migrants who travel with alternate forms of identification receive additional physical and baggage screenings.
If a migrant’s identity cannot be established through an accepted form of identification, it is up to the airport’s Federal Security Director (FSD) to decide whether to allow them through TSA, according to the email.
“The FSD has discretion to determine that no level of screening is acceptable to mitigate the risk and, as a result, the individual must be denied access to an airport’s sterile area,” the email stated.
Since Jan. 1, there have been around 147 non-citizens and non-U.S. nationals each day presenting DHS or ICE/CBP documents needing validation by the NTVC, according to the email. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 17, the NTVC processed 42,844 non-citizens and non-U.S. nationals requesting document validation, 30,925 of which flew out of border airports. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 14, TSA used CBP One about 38,000 times.
Former DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, who previously served in a number of top roles at TSA under both the George W. Bush and Trump administrations told the DCNF that the process still allows for risks even with the vetting measures in place.
“Does the risk outweigh the need to put them on an aircraft? That’s the issue at the end of the day is the more and more of these individuals who are flying without legitimate documentation, the risk profile increases and the more they do that the more risk DHS and TSA is assuming,” Wolf said. “What I would argue is you don’t have to take on that risk. They’re choosing to take on that risk when they put them on commercial aircraft.”
TSA confirmed to the DCNF that there’s a process to verify the identity of an illegal migrant who has immigration documents and a ticket for a commercial flight. The agency didn’t respond to our request for the latest processing numbers of non-citizens and non-U.S. nationals.
“TSA coordinates with CBP and uses resources available to the agency to confirm the identity of every traveler to ensure that transportation security is not compromised,” a TSA spokesperson said. “The identification of migrants is verified using the accepted forms of immigration-issued documents, as well as with other foreign-issued documents and passports that identify travelers.”
DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment, and ICE referred the DCNF to CBP.
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Jennie Taer is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.