Those agonizing border waits aren’t going to get longer after all.
At least not due to sequestration cuts. And only for now.
Despite previously announced plans to cut back on overtime and furlough border agents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said this week that it’s postponing those plans.
The federal agency’s deputy commissioner said in a Monday letter that a bill signed by President Barack Obama gave departments more discretion over cuts, thus allowing the agency to at least hold off on measures that could increase wait times.
“Although the budget reductions imposed by sequestration are significant, the bill’s provisions allow (Customs and Border Protection) to mitigate to some degree the impacts of the reduced budget on operations and workforce,” Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski wrote in a Monday letter obtained by U-T San Diego.
Such cuts were expected to add to border headaches. For example, lanes at San Ysidro that would normally have remained open with overtime staffing were closed, according to a March U-T story.
The postponed cuts are good news for San Diegans and Baja California residents who regularly cross the border at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa ports but not everyone is convinced that they won’t still happen eventually.
An El Paso-based border agent told The Washington Post some agents were skeptical, and not just because the announcement came on April Fool’s Day.
“The whole thing could happen again in another month or two,” he said.
The waits can extend for hours and often discourage would-be crossers.
And they’re costly, as we pointed out in a January post :
A 2007 report from SANDAG, the county’s regional planning agency, projected San Diego and Baja California lose billions each year due to logjams at the border.
That year, SANDAG estimated, the binational region missed out on $7.2 billion and more than 62,000 jobs due to the long waits.
Mayor Bob Filner has made easing waits a priority since he became San Diego’s top executive. He’s prepared to push for federal dollars to help San Diego and Baja California foster a stronger working relationship and greater cultural ties.
“People face very arbitrary wait times that can go two, three, four hours and they won’t cross,” Filner said earlier this year. “Why put yourself through that if it’s just to have a meal on the other side or visit relatives? You may just put that off.”
Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0528.
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