By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than a dozen U.S. air marshals plan to refuse deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a group representing them, a sign of challenges facing U.S. President Joe Biden's administration as it grapples with record migrant crossings.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sought volunteers from the Federal Air Marshal Service to travel to the southwest border, but when fewer than 150 signed up in October, some were assigned, said Sonya LaBosco, executive director of the Air Marshal National Council.
The air marshals are part of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a DHS subagency, and ride on U.S. airlines to guard against security threats.
A lawyer for the air marshal group wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to the agency that the deployments are illegal because they involve duties outside the scope of the job. While DHS does not release the number of marshals, LaBosco said there were fewer than 3,000.
LaBosco said the deployments would hurt U.S. aviation security during the holiday travel season and force marshals to take on unrelated duties at the border, including watching migrant children.
A DHS spokesperson defended the deployments, saying that marshals have had previous assignments to assist hurricane relief and that some were temporarily deployed to the border in 2019. U.S. flights would still be protected, the spokesperson said.
The Washington Examiner first reported the marshals' plan.
The tensions come as the Biden administration is preparing for the possible end of a COVID-era border order, known as Title 42, which allows U.S. authorities to rapidly expel migrants to Mexico or other countries without the chance to seek asylum.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Cynthia Osterman)