- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2021

Homeland Security issued a new plea Monday for volunteers to head to the border to help handle the surge of migrants, and said those who do want to go can jump the line to get COVID-19 vaccines.

The urgent request from Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas underscores the difficulty the administration is having, even as it declines to label the situation a crisis.

“We still need assistance,” Mr. Mayorkas wrote to the department’s employees.

He added: “The safety of our employees is a priority and we have been able to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to volunteers who want one.”

Mr. Mayorkas announced earlier this month that he revived the department’s Volunteer Force, which the Trump administration deployed to handle the 2019 border surge.

Employees from across Homeland Security are being asked to head to Texas to help Customs and Border Protection, the agency that is arresting undocumented immigrants, care for the families and unaccompanied juveniles who are piling up in facilities.

Analysts said the urgency of the pleas undercuts the administration’s insistence that all is well.

“A second request for DHS volunteers is a desperate plea for help with a border crisis that the Biden administration appears incapable of controlling,” said Robert Law, a former senior official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a Homeland Security agency.

“The irony is not lost on me that the political appointees who disregarded warnings from career officials about their policies causing a border crisis are now begging these same employees to clean up their mess,” said Mr. Law, who is now director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

It’s not just Homeland Security.

The Office or Personnel Management last week issued an “urgent” request for people willing to go to the border for 120-day deployments to help Health and Human Services care for the thousands of children surging to the border.

Under current rules, Homeland Security is supposed to transfer unaccompanied children to HHS within 72 hours. But HHS lacks capacity, and thousands of children have been left mired in Border Patrol facilities.

The OPM solicitation doesn’t mention COVID-19 vaccines as an enticement.

Homeland Security has been on a mission to get its front-line workforce at the border vaccinated because of the dangers of working with the migrant population.

Testing has shown between 10% and 25% of the migrants show positive when tested — though given the congregate settings in which migrants are held before the test, it’s likely others are infected but the incubation period for testing positive has not yet tolled.

At the start of the Biden administration, migrants were regularly being released into communities without testing and even those who did test positive were not quarantined.

Homeland Security has made significant strides on the issue, striking deals with local officials and nongovernmental organizations where they have the capacity.

And in areas where the capacity doesn’t exist, such as Del Rio, Texas, Customs and Border Protection says it has signed a contract with a company to do testing.

Administration officials said last week that they got hundreds of volunteer offers in just the first couple weeks from within Homeland Security.

OPM’s request for volunteers could add many more to that roster. Those volunteers are not supposed to be engaging in law enforcement.

A separate volunteer request has also been issued at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a sister agency to CBP. ICE officers can do law enforcement.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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