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Higgins & Stefanik Urge U.S. Customs & Border Protection to Address Northern Border Staffing Shortages

Staffing Shortages and Temporary Duty Reassignments are Impacting Travel and Trade Between the United States and Canada

Congressmembers Brian Higgins (D-NY-26) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), who serve as co-chairs of the Northern Border Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, are calling on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to address staffing shortages at the Northern Border, which are causing excessive delays and deterring cross-border travel.

In a letter to the CBP Commissioner the members write, “Inspection booths at Northern Border Ports of Entry are woefully understaffed. At the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York, the second-busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing, we have received reports of only two out of 12 regular inspection lanes being open. The lack of staff and open lanes has led to hour-plus delays during morning commute hours. At the border crossing between Champlain, New York and St. Bernard de Lacolle, Quebec, wait times have tripled on average, and some days, waits can be over two hours long. Traffic has only reached 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels yet our booths are still understaffed. Long waits dissuade travelers from crossing the border, stifle economic activity, and cause undue harm to our border communities.

CBP Officers stationed at the Northern Border are being placed on temporary assignments at the Southern Border. Assignments are currently impacting 34 CBP Officers from the Port of Buffalo. Deployments, which last 60 days, began in April of 2022. On August 20, 2023, another 33 CBP Officers from Buffalo are scheduled to be sent to the Southern Border. Beyond impairing travel between the United States and Canada, these frequent reassignments are contributing to low morale among officers. Additionally, it impacts the agency’s ability to recruit new officers, placing the burden of additional overtime on existing officers. This issue is not unique to New York. CBP’s Workload Staffing Model demonstrates a shortage of at least 1,800 CBP Officers nationwide.  

Efficient travel across the border is critical for local economies along the Norther Border in New York State, as well as the United States as a whole. Canada is largest international inbound market to the United States with nearly 21 million visitors spending $20.8 billion annually.

In addition to staffing shortages, NEXUS backlogs continue to create unreasonable wait times for interview appointments, which often exceed a year. While the Trusted Traveler program is intended to expedite border crossings by prescreening travelers, the CBP website currently lists application processing times as 12-14 months. In response, earlier this year Higgins introduced the Make NEXUS Work Act, which would allow for virtual NEXUS interviews, easing and accelerating the application process.

Congressman Higgins’ Western New York district represents four Northern Border crossings, including the Peace Bridge, which is the second busiest along the 5,525-mile border. Congresswoman Stefanik’s Northern New York district represents the crossing between Champlain, New York, and St. Bernard de Lacolle, Quebec.