DERBY LINE, VT — Hundreds of border agents from across the U.S. are being temporarily transferred south ahead of the busy summer tourism season, worrying those along the northern border who fear Canadians could be caught in backups at border crossings.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says 731 northern border agents from land, sea and airports are in the process of being sent to the U.S.-Mexico border, where they will help their southern counterparts handle the influx of families and unaccompanied children from Central America.
The move comes as businesses gear up for the summer season, when tens of thousands of Canadian tourists help buoy the economies of communities in border states and elsewhere deeper inside the United States. Since U.S.-Canada border security was ramped up shortly after the 9-11 attacks, local and state officials have worried heightened security could hurt trade and the free flow of people back and forth across the 8,891 kilometre border.
Garry Douglas of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in Plattsburgh, New York, said commerce with Canada is the “single greatest driving force” in the regional economy and it took years to get adequate staffing levels at the northern border, which around 400,000 people and $1.6 billion in goods cross daily.
He said he hadn’t seen any problems yet, but cautioned that peak travel season doesn’t begin until Canada’s Victoria Day holiday weekend, from May 18-20.
Last week, 13 bipartisan members of Congress from six northern border states wrote acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, voicing concerns the plans could hurt cross-border travel and commerce.
“The decision to deploy northern border CBP officers to the southern border makes it increasingly more difficult for the agency to meet their core mission requirements at the border which include effectively securing U.S. points of entry and safeguarding and streamlining lawful trade and travel,” said the May 3 letter.
The letter was signed by four members of Congress from New York, four from Michigan, two from New Hampshire, and one each from Minnesota, Washington and North Dakota. On Thursday, Vermont’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch sent an identical letter to McAleenan.