U.S. Customs and Border Protection furloughs spark concern among business owners in South Florida

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - They protect our coastline from the bad guys, but even they aren't protected from the sequester.

Sixty thousand Customs and Border Patrol workers received furlough notices Thursday. That includes agents in South Florida.

The agency says it must cut over 750 million dollars, but they're trying to keep the furloughs from impacting public safety and national security.

The Coast Guard and local agencies will continue to patrol the waters, but authorities say to expect longer wait times if you're getting back from a cruise or an international flight.

"CBP will continue to make every effort to minimize the sequester's impact on public safety and national security, but expects that planned furlough of employees, along with reductions to overtime and hiring freeze will increase wait times at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports, and reduce staffing between land ports of entry," officials with Homeland Security said in a statement Friday.

Small businesses near the Port of Palm Beach say they will also be impacted by the budget cuts.

Workers on the tour boat "The Dolphin Dream" say they've heard their wait time for customs when returning from the Bahamas will be longer.

They say that is a problem for their guests who come from all over the world to spend a week touring the Bahamas.

"They want to fly out the same day. They've been stuck on the boat for a week and they are paying good money," Carl Bush, an employee on the boat, said.

Right now, Bush says it only takes thirty minutes to an hour for customs to board the boat and do their checks.

But the furloughs will likely increase the wait time when the boat returns to West Palm Beach.

"If our customers have to be at the airport by noon and customs doesn't get here until 10 a.m., then the customers aren't going to make their flights," Bush said.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will not elaborate on the furloughs and how they will schedule them, but says wait times will likely go up.

"They are hurting the small people. It's very bad for people in this business," Bush said.

As for airports, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday she expects wait times to increase to 150 to 200 percent of normal.

"I don't mean to scare, I mean to inform. If you're traveling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would," she said.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol overtime cuts will start April 7th and furloughs are expected to start in the middle of April.

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