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Schumer, Higgins want minimum staffing requirements set for northern border

Back in August, Sen. Charles E. Schumer demanded that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security immediately release its overdue report to Congress on Customs and Border Protection staffing at northern ports of entry.

The transfer of many customs officers to the Mexican border to process Central American asylum-seekers, he said, had caused local staffing shortages and sporadic backups on the region’s four international bridges.

But almost a month later, he and fellow Democrat, Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo say the Trump administration continues to ignore congressional directives while allowing traffic to back up at the Niagara River crossings. The pair told reporters during a Thursday morning news conference in Broderick Park that they are waiting no longer and will ask Congress to set minimum staffing requirements along the entire U.S.-Canada border.

“This is not a random occurrence; it’s the result of a misguided plan,” Schumer said. “You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”

The pair of Democrats pointed to recent backups on the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Peace Bridge – some as long as an hour – that are affecting cross-border commerce and tourism. They even noted that with the Buffalo Bills season about to begin, the 20% of the crowds at New Era Field made up of Canadian fans may be affected. Commuters to and from Buffalo also face unnecessary delays, they said, because so many customs inspectors were transferred to the southern border.

“Can you imagine, every day, having to sit there for an hour?” Schumer asked, adding that the estimated $400 million in annual cross-border commerce is also threatened.

A CBP official noted in August when Schumer first raised the issue that the agency had  reassigned 731 officers nationwide to support the Border Patrol along the southwest border, “where apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied children from Central America had overwhelmed Border Patrol capabilities and facilities.”

“As of Aug. 4, however, CBP has now reduced the previous 731 CBP officers deployed to 400 CBP officers,” the CBP official said then. “The impact of this reduction will be felt across the nation as the returning CBP officers will be equitably distributed back to their home ports of entry.”

But Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said problems persist and that the bill he and Higgins have sponsored results from the continuing failure of DHS to meet the Aug. 1 report deadline set by Congress.

“Congress’ oversight responsibility has never been more important than it is today,” Higgins added.

And Schumer said the administration “will pay a price” if it continues to ignore congressional mandates. He noted that DHS is asking for increased funding in its next budget and that Congress will watch carefully how the administration reacts to northern border staffing issues.

“If they can’t do this, why should they get an increase?” he asked.

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