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Sequester cuts mean Border Patrol staff furloughs, longer wait times to cross border

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MASSENA - Across-the-board federal spending cuts known collectively as sequestration will force all U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to take unpaid time off unless Congress acts to restore funding.

Facing roughly $512 million in cuts in 2013 alone, federal Customs and Border Protection has already issued furlough notices to its 60,000 employees, Border Patrol Swanton Sector spokeswoman Melissa Izaguirre said Monday.

The Swanton Sector stretches from Ogdensburg to northern New Hampshire.

“Reductions to Border Patrol overtime will begin on April 7 and furloughs of all Customs and Border Protection employees are expected to begin in mid-April,” Ms. Izaguirre said in an email message.

Overtime reductions at ports of entry have already been implemented, she said.

The Swanton Sector covers 261 miles of the U.S.-Canada border and is staffed by 352 agents. Ms. Izaguirre said the agency does not release the number of agents at each station for security reasons.

Despite fewer agents on duty, she said the agency will continue to do its job.

“We will continue to protect the border,” she said. “Individuals apprehended illegally crossing the border will still be processed as usual.”

Fewer agents manning shifts will also impact border crossings.

Ms. Izaguirre said the agency “expects that planned furlough of employees, along with reductions to overtime and a hiring freeze will increase wait times at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports, and reduced staffing between land ports of entry.”

She said the agency hopes to know the full extent of the impact by the end of the week.

“Because the length of the sequestration as well as funding levels through the end of the fiscal year are unknown at this time, it is difficult to project the impact of the reductions on individual employees or job occupations,” Ms. Izaguirre said.

The cuts to Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol are part of a sweeping $85 billion reduction in federal spending in 2013 that went into effect last month.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has cautioned that sequestration may last several months if Congress and the president are unable to reach a deal on more targeted federal spending cuts.

Ms. Izaguirre said every Border Patrol agent in the Swanton Sector will face furloughs “if no agreement is reached.”

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