Asking for more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents for Miami International Airport is a bipartisan political issue.
All seven South Florida members of Congress sent a letter Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to increase the number of agents at MIA, which has been understaffed for nearly two years.
The shortage hurts MIA's growth, the letter says -- especially since the county-owned airport can't fully staff an $180 million facility opened in 2012 to ease North Terminal delays. The airport recently added several dozen self-service kiosks to process arriving passengers, increased its own staffing to manage crowds and reimbursed the feds $6 million to pay for customs personnel as part of a pilot program approved by Congress.
“MIA has invested in the necessary infrastructure to accommodate its growth and it would be unconscionable if a key U.S. port of entry cannot capitalize on new markets and additional international air service because of CBP’s insufficient staffing levels,” the letter says.
It was spearheaded by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and signed by Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Joe Garcia, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
The shortage has not gone unnoticed outside the airport.
At a Miami cruise industry conference Tuesday, Arnold Donald, chief executive of Carnival Corp., mentioned the delays to clear customs for air passengers compared to cruise passengers.
"I bet a lot of you weren't treated with love and tenderness" at MIA, he said.
--with Douglas Hanks
This post has been updated to include Wasserman Schultz, whose name had been omitted in error.