Cuts to Customs and Border Protection Staff on Hold

El Paso border agent.
El Paso border agent.

Staff reductions at the country's ports of entry have been postponed, easing for now some sequestration-induced anxieties of stakeholders and elected officials on the Texas-Mexico border. 

Customs and Border Protection officials said Monday that in light of the budget bill President Obama signed last week, the agency has decided to review its plans to decrease overtime and furloughs. The agency said last month the cuts were necessary due to budget cuts known as sequester.

“I have been working closely with our budget office in analyzing the bill. Although the budget reductions imposed by sequestration are significant, the bill’s provisions allow CBP to mitigate to some degree the impacts of the reduced budget on operations and on CBP’s workforce,” Thomas Winkowski, the deputy CBP commissioner, wrote to his employees. “Please continue to proceed in a manner which ensures that we are able to carry out our national security mandate. Thank you for your understanding as we work through these issues and challenging times.”

Border lawmakers had said for weeks the cuts would not only affect security, but add hours to already long wait times at the country’s international ports of entry. The Laredo and El Paso customs districts are Mexico’s top two trading destinations and Mexico is Texas’ top trading partner. In January alone, trade between Mexico and Laredo was more than $18.4 billion. El Paso saw about $6.8 billion in total trade.

The planned 5 percent cuts would have reduced staffing to amounts that equal  about 5,000 fewer Border Patrol agents and 2,500 fewer CBP officers, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. The reduction in overtime could have been as much as 30 percent of an agent’s paycheck.

Gallego lauded the decision but added that Congress needed to come up with a long-term solution. The current budget only maintains current staffing levels through the current year.

“These dedicated agents — the individuals who keep our border safe — shouldn’t have to worry about financial instability on a continual basis,” he said in a statement. “Our agents deserve peace of mind from furloughs and lost wages. Congress must enact a long-term solution that puts the nation’s fiscal house in order — instead of constant crisis management through short-term, uncertain quick fixes.”

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