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September 19, 2013

Officials: Border Patrol unit critical in Plattsburgh

PLATTSBURGH — A push is on to keep staffing levels stable at a Plattsburgh-based U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol unit.

In a personal meeting with the nominee for commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Richard “Gil” Kerlikowske, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer pressed him to maintain the current level of security along New York’s northern border despite an overall climate of budget cutbacks, according to a news release from Schumer’s office.

North Country Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) also sent a letter to Thomas S. Winkowski, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol, saying he was misled about the future of the unit.

Schumer specifically urged Kerlikowske to maintain the total number of flight hours along the northern border, in order to ensure there is no significant drop-off in security.

Customs and Border Protection operates two air and marine bases in Upstate New York — in Buffalo and also Plattsburgh at Plattsburgh International Airport.

Kerlikowske, the release noted, served as Buffalo police commissioner and understands and appreciates the need for state-of-the-art border security.

“The federal government’s budget constraints are real and must be addressed, but critical northern border protections from Plattsburgh to Buffalo must not be sacrificed,” Schumer said.

“I am urging nominee Mr. Kerlikowske to ensure that surveillance of the northern border does not suffer, and that flight hours are maintained across the state, so that we can protect our border communities and continue to fight back against illegal border activities in those regions.”

Owens’s letter to Winkowski said that he had a thorough conversation with the Border Patrol’s Office of Air and Marine Assistant Commissioner Randolph Alles on Aug. 1 about the unit.

Owens said he was told then that any planned reduction in staffing would occur incrementally over the next three to five years.

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