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Editorial: Minimum staffing needed at the border

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer returned to town recently and, with Rep. Brian Higgins, sent a sharp message to the Trump administration about staffing, or lack thereof, at our northern border: It needs to be adequate and consistent. Our safety and our economy depend on it.

Let’s hope the message hits home, and quickly.

Schumer and Higgins have consistently kept Western New York’s best interests at the top of their agendas. The two Democrats double-teamed earlier this month to demand 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 issue is critical to the interests of Western New York, which depends on trade and tourism with Canada. Long delays at entry points undermines our local economy. That problem has been made worse this year by the administration’s ill-considered transfer of many customs officers to the country’s border with Mexico.

President Trump has made it clear that he believes the priority should be on Central American asylum-seekers. But Schumer correctly asserted that the deployment has caused local staffing shortages and backups on the region’s four international bridges.

Higgins and Schumer are determined to be heard on this issue, beginning with their joint Sept. 5 news conference in Broderick Park to announce that they will not wait any longer. Instead, they will turn to Congress to set minimum staffing requirements along the entire U.S.-Canada border. It’s become an essential issue, as the administration, instead of hiring enough agents to do the job, robs Peter to pay Paul, as Schumer put it.

Returning staffing levels would go a long way toward easing unsustainable backups on the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Peace Bridge.

Buffalo Bills fans on the other side of the border must be able to don their jerseys and make it here by game time and, as Schumer pointed out, commuters must be able to get to and from work without hourslong delays.

Others in Western York also depend on smooth travel across the border, including the Sabres, Shea’s Performing Arts Center and retailers across Erie and Niagara counties.

As Schumer noted, it adds up to $400 million in annual cross-border commerce. Those are the dollars at stake while the administration deploys customs officers to the Mexican border. The nationwide reassignment of 731 officers, now reduced to 400 officers, according to one official, should have been reexamined. Instead, the DHS failed to meet the Aug. 1 report deadline set by Congress.

Schumer said the administration “will pay a price” if it continues to ignore congressional mandates, reminding the agency of its request for increased funding in its next budget. It’s the right approach.

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