Despite a renewed surge of Central American migrants and concerns about an increase in Cubans seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Obama administration is reducing aerial surveillance along the border.
According to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott the Department of Homeland Security has requested just 3,850 hours of aerial border security support for Operation Phalanx from the Department of Defense — half the level of years past.
“Given the recent surge of migrants from Central America and Cuba along the southern border, we believe DHS should request more surveillance and security resources, not fewer. Moreover, Texas requested additional aerial observation resources in a September 30, 2015, letter that went unanswered by your department,” the Democrat and Republican wrote in a letter to DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson Monday.
“The fact that DHS now appears to be taking the opposite approach is unsettling,” the pair added.
In recent months the already elevated level of migration from Central America has increased and as the U.S. has moved toward more normalized relations with Cuba there has been a surge of Cubans seeking asylum fearing the special immigration privileges the U.S. has granted Cuban refugees since the 1960s will soon end.
“Any decrease in aerial observation is not only imprudent, but contradicts the very mission of border security enforcement,” Cuellar and Abbott wrote.
They further pressed DHS for more information on how the reductions in aerial support will impact the border.
“In order to ensure we are doing everything possible to effectively secure the border, we request immediate information on the metrics used to determine that a 50 percent reduction in aerial resources would be sufficient to support this important border security operation,” they wrote.
They further requested “detailed plans on how the cuts will impact staffing, resource allocation, and operation levels in the three support sectors (Laredo, Rio Grande Valley and Tucson). If these decreases continue, what resources will DHS utilize to backfill any gaps this reduction presents?”
UPDATE: In an email to Breitbart News provided after publication DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said DHS would be responding to Abbott and Cuellar directly and stressed the department’s commitment to border security.
Lee explained that while the Department of Defense has provided support along the border for that past ten years — first under Operation Jump Start from June 2006 to July 2008 then under Operation Phalanx from July 2010 to today — DHS has made improvements “in how we approach border security” and this year decided to reduce the Department of Defense’s support role.
“Instead, for 2016, DHS requested, and DoD agreed to provide, support along the Southwest border that will include 3,850 hours of persistent aerial detection, situational awareness and monitoring capability. This year and going forward, as part of our broader DHS force management and requirements processes, DHS will assess its yearly capability needs to accomplish our border security objectives and when necessary, request from DoD the support necessary to augment our own capabilities,” Lee said in a statement.
He added that apprehensions along the border have been on the decline compared to the peak in FY 2000, attributing the lower apprehensions to a reduction in illegal immigration due to more border security.
“Today, the Border Patrol consists of over 20,000 Border Patrol Agents, and the largest-ever level of technology and equipment. DHS continues to focus on and invest in technology, surveillance equipment, and a risk-based strategy towards border security,” Lee added.