As the Biden administration ramps up the release of illegal migrants detained at the southern border, they are exempting many from the Transportation Security Agency's government photo ID rules for airline travel, giving them special permissions to fly after a background check.
TSA officials say they are confident the screenings that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are doing before migrants are permitted onto U.S. domestic flights is ensuring security. But a former head of the CBP told Just the News he is not so sure.
"I'm sure CBP is doing as much due diligence as possible," said Mark Morgan, who served as acting commissioner of the agency under President Donald Trump and chief of U.S. Border Patrol and acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Barack Obama. "But when you have 180,000 people crossing a month and many don't have the official travel documents normally needed to ensure identity, there is only so much you can do."
All American passengers are required to provide TSA a government-issued photo ID, usually a state-issued driver's license or a passport, Homeland Security trusted traveler card, green card or a Department of Defense ID. There are procedures when an American forgets their ID at the airport, which requires filling out extensive paperwork, waiting for ID verification and then undergoing a pat-down search according to the TSA Web site.
Officials said illegal migrants being released from detention pose additional challenges if they didn't arrive at the border with a passport or other clear government-trusted IDs. Some arrive with birth certificates issued by foreign countries or have generic IDs that don't carry the same weight as a passport or driver's license.
TSA officials said CBP officials will call consulates and embassies for the home countries when migrants are detained without official travel papers in an effort to ascertain their identities before allowing them to take a flight.
"The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an established process to verify the identity of undocumented individuals who have received immigration documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and are ticketed for travel on a commercial airline," TSA press secretary Sarah Rodriguez told Just the News.
"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," she added.
But Morgan said such an ad hoc system is only as good as the information that a host country can provide. "If you are calling a Cuba or a Venezuela or a Sudan consulate, can we really be sure? I don't think so," he said. "We are abandoning every single security norm we learned after 9/11 just to move illegal aliens through the country."
Morgan's concerns are shared by John Zadrozny, a former top Trump adviser on homeland and immigration issues who said he witnessed firsthand a migrant family being placed on a flight without the normal ID.
"They are putting people on planes without passports or IDs," he sad. "We saw it firsthand. We saw a family from Uganda — by the way, [they were] very well-dressed and spoke fluent English and had a lot of money on them — board a flight without a passport. And so not only is the contrast really sharp, but it's a dangerous contrast.
"I think the American people need to be fully aware that there are people boarding planes without proof of who they are, going to points unknown," he said. "And that's not only a health risk, that's a potential terrorism risk, and we have to take it seriously."
TSA officials say they are confident the current procedures can adequately verify the identity of illegal migrants before they board a plane, though they declined to discuss specifics. They noted most migrants have some form of ID when they arrive at the border, but some do require alternate verification, they added.
"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," one official explained.
TSA officials were unable to provide Just the News a total number of migrants who were allowed to board planes without the normally required IDs, saying it is a statistic they do not readily track.
Zadrozny, now a top adviser at the America First Policy Institute, said he believes Congress should use its oversight authority to review the processes and practices. "I think Congress really needs to take a hard look about preventing these types of waivers," he told the John Solomon Reports podcast this week.
Airline executives told Just the News their airline check-in counters from time to time will see a migrant checking in baggage without the normally required ID, and they will instead show a waiver-like form from CBP saying they are approved for travel.
Official spokesmen for United, American, Southwest and Delta airlines did not return calls, emails or Web messages seeking comment.