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Schumer: Customs transfers could hurt tourism, increase security risks

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer Saturday added his voice to the chorus of northern border lawmakers objecting to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's transfer of customs officers to the southern border.

In a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Schumer said shifting customs officers away from the U.S.-Canada border poses risks ranging from border backups to security concerns.

"If not properly managed, this transfer could lengthen processing times, endanger sensitive CBP operations, and strain the capacity of the remaining officers’ ability to discharge their duties," said Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Customs and Border Protection plans to temporarily reassign upwards of 300 officers from the northern border to the U.S.-Mexico border to cope with an influx of asylum-seekers there. Included in that number are 17 officers from the Buffalo area who have already been told of their 60-day reassignments.

The agency had been committed to maintaining 3,600 staffers across the northern border, and Schumer urged McAleenan to maintain that level of staffing.

"I have serious concerns that with decreased staff, northern CBP field offices will begin augmenting the remaining personnel, which could lead to staff performing tasks they are not trained to do and longer work hours, ultimately resulting in increased wait times for consumers and acting as a deterrent to U.S.-Canadian tourism travel," Schumer wrote.

What's more, Schumer said the moves could pose a security risk, given that a 2017 report found that there are potential terrorists in Canada who are not included on the U.S. terrorism watch list.

"Responding to this serious national security threat requires northern CBP field offices are able to operate at maximum capacity," Schumer said. "Furthermore, international narcotics traffickers have sought to exploit vulnerabilities at northern ports of entry in order to import dangerous drugs which can find their way to Western New York."

The customs agency started the transfers last month and announced another round of the moves in an internal memo last week.

Thirteen members of the House Northern Border Caucus, which is co-chaired by Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of Willsboro, last week also protested the transfers in a letter to McAleenan.

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