U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins on Thursday joined a Republican colleague in introducing a piece of legislation that would require minimum staffing levels at ports of entry along the northern border.
Higgins, a Democrat who represents Niagara Falls and Buffalo, and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, are hopeful the Border Officer Utilization for National Defense Act, also known as BOUND, will assist border agents in doing their jobs and protect the local tourism industry and cross-border commerce.
“The northern border has unique needs related to security, trade and travel," Higgins said. "Shortfalls in staffing make it more difficult for CBP officers to do their jobs, impacting both the national and local economies that rely on the efficient flow of goods and people, and placing additional, unnecessary stress on national security operations between the two nations.”
CBP officers were recently pulled from the northern border and temporarily reassigned to the southern border during the busiest season for border crossings between the U.S. and Canada. Crossings along the entire Northern Border jump from around six million in January and February to close to 11 million in July and August. Higgins and Stefanick have repeatedly objected to the diversion of Northern Border CBP officers, leading a bipartisan letter sent to the Homeland Security Secretary in May signed by several Members who represent the northern border communities.
“Travel and trade between Canada and the North Country is a critical source of revenue that directly impacts our local economy, as well as the national economy," Stefanik said. "Maintaining strong staffing levels at the Northern Border will ensure our tourism industry and economy are not stifled and that CPB officers are able to effectively carry out their duties. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to support our Northern Border personnel and keep our economy strong.”
Higgins' office said there are currently 162 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are continuing to assist Border Patrol along the southern border. It is anticipated that 105 CBP officers will return to their home stations by Sept.15, 2019 and the remaining 57 will return by Sept. 22, 2019.
The decision to deploy northern border CBP officers to the southern border impacts morale and adds further stress to the job of safeguarding and streamlining lawful trade and travel. Furthermore, travelers experienced significant delays crossing the border as a result of the lean staffing, caused by recent temporary transfers to the southern border, at these land ports of entry.
The Northern Border constitutes the longest land boundary between two countries in the world. At 5,525 miles, approximately 400,000 people and over $1.6 billion in goods cross the border daily through more than 120 ports of entry.
Higgins and Stefanik serve as co-chairs of the Northern Border Caucus, Congress’s oldest and largest Congressional Member organization dealing with the U.S.- Canada relationship. Founded in 1994, this bipartisan group of Members has acted to highlight policy concerns and issues affecting the economic, cultural, and political partnership between the United States and Canada.