The Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency—which also works to protect schools and places of worship—is urging staffers tasked with handling cyber threats to set their day jobs aside and go on mini-deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border after an earlier request from headquarters failed to recruit enough officials, according to an email obtained by The Daily Beast.
The effort to send more employees to the border comes amid concerns that the agency’s focus on the influx of migrants at the border is siphoning off DHS officials who should be handling other threats—especially to elections. DHS’s other components, including its intelligence arm, have also been asked to send volunteers to the border. It is unclear if those components have found enough volunteers to satisfy headquarters.
On Friday, the deputy director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) sent out an email asking employees to consider a “short-term deployment to the southern border,” ranging from 30 to 45 days, due to the “ongoing surge of migrants.”
“It is never easy to ask colleagues to take on extra challenges, but as DHS employees, serving the needs of the homeland is the cornerstone of what we do,” wrote Matthew Travis, CISA deputy director, to agency employees.
“If it is in your capacity to deploy, please give serious thought to volunteering,” he added.
Earlier this spring, top officials asked employees from all DHS entities to go volunteer at the border, according to a DHS official. The email went out because CISA is still working to send as many people as DHS headquarters has asked for, the official added. In other words, not enough CISA employees want to step away from their cybersecurity work to focus on border security—at least, not yet.
“As we have consistently said, the Department is considering all options to address the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” said Tyler Houlton, DHS acting assistant secretary for public affairs, in a statement.
“We will continue to work with our workforce to find dynamic solutions and funding to address this very serious problem. As part of this effort, it is our responsibility to explore fiscal mechanisms that will ensure the safety and welfare of both our workforce and the migrant population, which is also reflected in the supplemental request submitted to Congress.”
Among the officials who were asked on Friday to assist the federal government at the border are those tasked with protecting the U.S. government’s cyber infrastructure—including election systems considered vulnerable in the run-up to 2020.
DHS also said the deployments will not hamper the department’s other work.
“DHS is fully capable of deploying more resources to address the crisis at our southern border while simultaneously maintaining our operational capabilities throughout the Department in order to carry out our mission to protect the American people,” said Houlton.
DHS has been urging its personnel who do not work for Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement to volunteer at the border because they say those agencies need additional assistance due to the flow of migrants from the south. Roughly 400 employees of the Transportation Security Administration, for example, are expected to arrive at the border soon.
But DHS has not offered many details on what specific responsibilities these employees will handle. With many migrants traveling in large groups and often with young children, agents are spending much of their time attending to children, DHS officials have said.
The Border Patrol chief, Carla Provost, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 8 that some agents are serving primarily as “child care professionals, medical caregivers, bus drivers and food service workers.”
Apprehensions of migrants at the southern border have reached a 13-year high. In the last two months, Border Patrol apprehended over 200,000 migrants; the total for April—109,000—is the highest number for a single month since 2007.
Trump administration officials are saying they do not have enough resources to handle the influx, and have requested an additional $4.5 billion for their operations from Congress. Democrats on Capitol Hill have signaled a willingness to fund humanitarian assistance at the border, but have scuttled other uses of funding, like increasing beds in ICE detention facilities.