Washington D.C. – The worsening coronavirus crisis along the Texas border threatens the safety of federal employees who work there and the administration should reverse plans to deploy even more Customs and Border Protection Officers to the region, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.
CBP has informed NTEU that it wants to uproot more than 800 CBP Officers from ports around the country for each of two consecutive 60-day deployments to the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo assisting Border Patrol. DHS has asked Congress for approval to reprogram funds to pay for temporary deployments.
“We have grave concerns about sending additional federal law enforcement personnel into a region where COVID-19 cases are spiking and hospitals are nearly full,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “The situation is already dangerous for the CBP employees stationed there -- and their families -- and we do not believe CBP is prepared to ensure that the risks of infection are minimized for an additional 800 Officers per deployment, who would need personal protective equipment, safe lodging and transportation, and potentially access to health care.”
NTEU represents about 27,000 CBP employees at land, sea and air ports around the country.
In discussions with NTEU about the temporary deployments, the agency has so far not committed to testing all employees for COVID-19 upon their return to their home ports or requiring them to quarantine at home for 14-days. In fact, CBP still does not provide testing and effective contact tracing for employees who are already living and working along the border, full-time, who are in regular contact with members of the public as they are processed through the ports.
The full CBP workforce, which includes Officers, agriculture specialists and trade enforcement personnel at the ports plus Border Patrol Agents and Air and Marine officers, have 1,058 cases of COVID-19, according to the agency. Five CBP port employees have died.
“The ports of entry never shut down during the pandemic, which means CBP employees have been at risk throughout this crisis, and sending even more of them into a part of the country where coronavirus is getting worse by the day is irresponsible,” Reardon said. “CBP should be focusing its resources on the health and safety of CBP personnel already assigned to the border, including policies that allow for appropriate social distancing at the port and giving employees more time to remain safe at home.”
Those policies, worked out between NTEU and CBP, were briefly in place before being canceled by CBP.
NTEU is also concerned about the agency’s ability to fully notify impacted employees of a potential exposure to a colleague or a traveler who later tests positive.
“This is not just about the health and safety of CBP employees along the border but also the risk they could pose to their home ports and communities upon their return,” Reardon said. “Right now, the bigger priority is for Congress to provide CBP with emergency supplemental appropriations to make up for the dramatic decline in user fees that fund salaries for a large number of CBP Officers, not a questionable and risky deployment that puts even more federal employees in harm’s way.”
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.