BUFFALO, New York — Delays getting into Western New York from Canada always increase during the busy summer travel season, but this year border wait times are especially long. Dozens of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have been shifted south to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico, making wait times even longer.
In June of 2019 alone, more than 100,000 migrants crossed into the United States from Mexico. The majority of them were family members, and many were seeking asylum. To help with processing, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decided to shift some CBP officers from the northern border down to the south.
"We're a country," said Aaron Bowker, Buffalo's chief CBP officer and public affairs liaison. "We're responsible for securing (all borders), and where the need is is where we're going to put the focus on that."
While Homeland Security won't give specifics, sources tell 2 On Your Side up to 90 officers from the Buffalo Field Office — which covers 16 different ports of entry — could end up being reassigned.
Bowker acknowledges with fewer officers, people will sometimes see slightly longer delays, although he says CBP does all it can to minimize the impact.
"You're taking the available resources you have, and you're constantly flexing that enforcement priority with border wait times," Bowker said.
A 2 On Your Side analysis of waits at the border shows CBP has kept almost all lanes open during busy weekends. Any delays would be due to heavy volume. However, lower staffing does seem to have had an impact during the week, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays.
At the Peace Bridge, CBP statistics show the average maximum wait time for a Monday in July last year was 24 minutes. This year, delays have surpassed that many times. On Monday — July 22 of this year — people waited 45 minutes at the border, in part because only 6 of the lanes were open.
At the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, delays last July peaked at 13 minutes for any hour of any day. This year, delays have surpassed 30 minutes countless times, including Tuesday, July 23, when it took drivers 40 minutes to clear. During that time, 7 inspection lanes were open and 10 were closed.
Bowker says his agency sees a small increase in wait times (perhaps 10 minutes) as acceptable considering the circumstances. He said CBP will shift resources anytime delays go beyond that.
Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) has called on CBP to end the policy of shifting officers to the southern border. He's also worried about forced overtime in the Buffalo area. Sources tell 2 On Your Side some officers are working 16-hour shifts for multiple days in a row.
"We know it's a concern," Bowker said. "We try and balance that concern as best we can to still do the mission."
Bowker spent a day with 2 On Your Side to be transparent about all that happens at the Peace Bridge inspection plaza. Officers are successfully interdicting an incredible amount of drugs and other illegal items. They're also identifying people who are crossing illegally, and in some cases, solving crimes. We dig into all of that in part 2 of our special report next week on Channel 2.