For a picture of the nation’s border struggles, look at the long lines and understaffed international-passenger checkpoints at Miami International Airport.
Up to 1,000 passengers in a single day have missed connecting flights at the airport — the busiest in the nation for international flights — because they’re held up at the Customs and Border Protection facility.
And the problem could get even worse next month because of looming federal budget cuts, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday after visiting the airport.
“Everything we are trying to do here — the additional staffing, overtime, technology…. will come to a screeching halt,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano toured the airport at the request of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair, who warned that the cuts — under the so-called sequester — would undermine services for nearly anyone who comes into contact with the federal government.
Still, Wasserman Schultz said she was "optimistic" Congress could make a deal in the next week.
If Congress comes up with a deal to avoid the cuts, Customs and Border Protection either needs to shift resources to properly staff its Miami airport facility or get more money to hire more officers.
Absent a Congressional deal, however, Napolitano also warned that Transportation Security Administration officers might be furloughed as well, meaning travelers should arrive at busy airports like MIA an hour early and citizens re-entering the United States could wind up waiting twice as long to get back in the country.
U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, toured the airport with Napolitano and said earlier that the situation at the airport encapsulates what’s wrong with Congress as well as the entire immigration system.
“We’re having a big debate over fixing our borders in Mexico, but we can’t even get a rich Argentinian businessman through Customs on time because we don’t have the proper staffing,” Garcia said before the press conference.