The Department of Homeland Security may lower the security clearance required to process migrants detained on the southern border in an effort to mitigate staffing shortages ahead of the surge of immigrants expected at the border in the coming months, according to internal memos reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
The memos show leadership within the agency discussing the need to allow members of its volunteer force—staffers who sign up to assist with border issues outside their normal roles—and outside contractors access the federal government's internal immigration data entry system. That system, known as E3, compiles all information, including biometric data, on migrants detained by Customs and Border Protection agents.
E3 is a law enforcement system, meaning that civilians rarely get access without proper training and background clearance. Because the information in E3 is sensitive a comprehensive background investigation is required to work on the system.
The proposed changes could open up the country to a host of security concerns. One senior DHS official said the change displays a lack of serious concern about controlling who can enter the country.
"It's quite astonishing when the administration's disregard for border security and obsession with forcing mass migration through lack of enforcement is now being coupled with an ad hoc surrender of law enforcement jurisdiction to laypeople and contractors," the DHS official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.
The memos reviewed by the Free Beacon show senior DHS officials' attempts to gain control over the border crisis, exacerbated by President Joe Biden's repeal of Title 42, which allowed CBP to deny entry migrants access to the country's interior with no legal proceedings. Ending that policy, DHS acknowledges, will lead to a surge of migrants at the southern border at a time when it is seeing unprecedented crossings by illegal immigrants.
The proposed changes have many within DHS concerned. One Border Patrol agent said that changing access rights opens the entire system up for abuse.
"It's a law enforcement database so you don't want just anybody in the system," the agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. "E3 grants access to many things. There's a ton you can do with it."
To gain the security clearance currently required to access E3, individuals need to undergo a Single Scope Background Investigation, which is most stringent background checks in the federal government. Applicants typically undergo rigorous questioning and submit references who may also be interviewed. Those who receive preliminary clearance also receive training on how to handle sensitive information.
Once approved, officials who pass the background investigations can access Top Secret information, some of the highest classified information in the federal government. Mark Morgan, a former Customs and Border Protection commissioner, said the change could be exploited by bad actors.
"This is a step backwards," Morgan told the Free Beacon. "The reality is that some people in government don't do the right thing. My guess is [the Biden administration] is doing this to bring in a whole bunch of non-DHS volunteers who need access."
DHS has been running a volunteer force for months, offering overtime pay to staff within the agency to travel down to the southern border and help with migration processing. Even with that program, staffing shortages remain throughout CBP, prompting some senior officials to propose expanding the volunteer force to employees of other government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Senior officials within CBP predict the number of migrant apprehensions this year to total upwards of 2.3 million, a significant increase over the 1.6 million in 2021, which was a record.
President Joe Biden's proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year allocates money for the hiring of just 300 new Border Patrol officers and 300 Border Patrol processing coordinators. Hundreds of volunteers are expected to deploy to the southern border in the coming months.
"Even if you were to somehow manage to partition parts of E3 that have sensitive information, the plan is still ridiculous," the senior DHS official told the Free Beacon. "We're taking our federal workforce who have jobs to do across DHS and turning them into open borders processors."
Last month, General Glen VanHerck revealed in a Senate hearing that DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requested assistance from the Pentagon for border-related activities. VanHerck did not elaborate on what kind of details are under consideration.
Democrats have also voiced concerns over Biden's decision to end Title 42. Arizona Democratic senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema sent a letter to the White House last month that asks Biden "not to make any changes to Title 42 implementation until you are completely ready to execute and coordinate a comprehensive plan that ensures a secure, orderly, and humane process at the border."
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), who faces a competitive reelection race in the fall, called Biden's decision premature and said the White House does not appear ready for the expected surge in migrants.
"I'll keep pushing the administration to strengthen border security & look forward to hearing directly from border agents during my upcoming trip to the border," Hassan tweeted on April 1.