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Concerns of Inadequate CBP Staffing at Miami International Airport

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a great sense of urgency over the critical need to have more Customs and Border Protection officers at Miami International Airport, known as MIA. MIA, which I humbly represent, is not only the busiest airport in the State of Florida, but it is also the second largest international gateway in the Nation. In fact, international passenger traffic at MIA has steadily grown over the last few years far more than any other U.S. international gateway. However, the insufficient Customs and Border Protection officers, known as CBP, staffing levels at MIA pose a threat to this welcome growth of travel and tourism into our country.

Passengers are experiencing long wait times for immigration and customs processing. For example, just a few days ago, last Wednesday, the 7,681 passengers who arrived at the Federal Inspection Service at MIA's North Terminal were held in line for more than 2 hours. Out of the 72 lanes available to assist passengers, only 20 were open. And there is only one simple explanation for this problem. CBP staffing does not meet the numbers needed for the safe and efficient processing of passengers and cargo going through our airport.

As time passes by, this endemic problem has only proven to deteriorate. The Miami-Dade congressional delegation and MIA officials have long been focused on how to fix this problem while ensuring a safe and seamless travel experience for our local residents and our many, many visitors.

Earlier this week, I wrote a letter to Secretary Johnson of the Department of Homeland Security asking for his immediate action on alleviating the ongoing shortage of CBP officers, a deficiency that sets back efforts to make Florida competitive; and it hurts our travel and tourism, two vital engines to our Nation's economy.

The entire Miami-Dade congressional delegation, including our Senators, is united on this bipartisan, bicameral effort.

With a strategic location to handle connections between the Americas and Europe, MIA serves as the doorstep to the United States. In 2013, a record 40 million passengers passed through MIA's doors as they made their way to their final destinations. These people come to our port of entry either to visit south Florida or to make connections to other national and international destinations. We need to welcome them with the world-class airport that MIA can be and not with long lines, hassles, and congestion.

Under the leadership of Dr. Emilio Gonzalez, the director of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, MIA has taken a number of steps to ease the lack of CBP officers. How have they done this? Installing automated passport control self-serve kiosks; also, increasing the Miami-Dade Aviation Department staffing, participating in a reimbursable fee agreement pilot program approved by Congress which allows for needed overtime, and by closing certain gateways in order to concentrate CBP officers in appropriate areas.

However, despite MIA's innovative approach, CBP's insufficient staffing levels continue to pose serious challenges to the airport's daily operations. With the growing number of passengers arriving or transitioning through MIA and with the World Cup in Brazil approaching, MIA will have an even busier summer. We need to be prepared. And that is why we ask for Secretary Johnson's assistance in providing much-needed CBP staffing and to remember that MIA's success is our Nation's success.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot stress enough the pressing need for Federal staffing at MIA, which will only allow for a further streamlining of long lines and will also help in the reduction of wait times for visitors and for residents, alike.

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