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Editorial: Border insecurity

Sen. Charles E. Schumer has a full plate as the Senate minority leader, yet every few weeks he reminds Western New York that he keeps an eye on upstate.

The New York Democrat came to Buffalo last week to call for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to release its report to Congress on Customs and Border Protection staffing along the northern border.

Officers have been borrowed from Buffalo and other northern posts to help with the deluge of immigrants seeking asylum at our border with Mexico. A report on the staffing assignments was due Aug. 1.

Customs officials said last week that some of the officers have been returned to their original posts. Of the 731 officers nationwide who were reassigned to the southern border, about 330 have been sent back.

Officials did not give a breakdown on how many were returned to the Buffalo region, where they work at bridge crossings and at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

As of early May, 37 officers from upstate New York – 17 from the Buffalo area – had been transferred to the southern border for 60-day assignments.

Such transfers can be defensible when national priorities demand deploying officers elsewhere, but our northern border needs to be protected and traffic tie-ups minimized. It’s good to have Schumer in our corner to make sure our region’s needs are not neglected.

A story in The News last week noted that significant delays at crossings from Canada were taking place on weekdays, due to the personnel shortage. Bridge managers did praise U.S. Customs and Border Protection for its staffing flexibility that made handling traffic on weekends and holidays a priority, but said that backups are occurring on weekdays when normally there would be few delays.

Aaron Bowker, customs’ chief officer for field operations in Buffalo, told The News that his agency is coping as best it can with the disruption, but must keep its focus on its “enforcement mission,” such as intercepting drugs and smuggled goods at the border. He noted a “drastic increase” in seizures of marijuana at the border since it was legalized in Canada in 2018.

Keeping the border safe and criminals out of our country is the top priority, of course, particularly after the temporary reductions in staffing were publicized.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has also been active in keeping the federal government aware of Buffalo’s need to maintain vigorous staffing at our bridges and airport. Higgins and other members of the House Northern Border Caucus, including Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, wrote a letter the Department of Homeland Security in May expressing their concerns that removing CBP officers from the North “makes it increasingly more difficult for the agency to meet their core mission requirements at the border.”

Our region’s tourism businesses depend on visitors from Canada. Ontario shoppers are regular customers at many of our retail stores and businesses throughout the region depend on goods trucked in and out of Canada.

We can’t let our border bridges become bottlenecks. Schumer, Higgins and Collins should not let go of this issue until the forces securing our border return to full strength.

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