Florida wants federal help for Miami airport

Greg Nash

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are warning that the lack of federal staff at Miami International Airport (MIA) is creating long waits for passengers, and is threatening the potential for the airport to increase international traffic.

These members wrote a letter this week to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to ask that he deploy more Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff to Miami's airport, which would help facilitate the process of foreign nationals who land in Miami.

The letter was also signed by Miami-based members of the House, led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who said Thursday that a few days ago, thousands of international passengers waited for nearly four hours to be processed.

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"The insufficient Customs and Border Protection officers ... at MIA pose a threat to this welcome growth of travel and tourism into our country," she said on the House floor. "Passengers are experiencing long wait times for immigration and customs processing."

She said of the 72 lanes available to process these passengers, only 20 were open this week. "CBP staffing does not meet the numbers needed for the safe and efficient processing of passengers and cargo going through our airport," she said.

The letter said that MIA has taken some steps on its own, including adding self-serve kiosks and spending more on overtime for airport workers. But it says more CBP officers are still needed.

"Despite these efforts, CBP's insufficient staffing levels continue to plague MIA's current operations and are unable to meet the unprecedented growth in our international travel market," the letter said.

The letter also warns that airlines based at MIA are looking to expand international service to South America — in particular, these airlines are looking to expand service to Brazil for the World Cup this year, and to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games.

"In accordance with all applicable rules and regulations, we ask that you address these critical CBP staffing issues at MIA," the letter concludes.