ST. ALBANS — The current Appropriations Bill funding the federal government contains good news for northwestern Vermont.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has successfully included measures that would could increase staff at the Highgate Springs border crossing and which urges U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to consolidate leadership under and to grow the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans.
The Appropriations Bill will now need to be approved by the full Senate and then be reconciled with the bill from the House of Representatives.
The Leahy measure calls for 1,850 additional Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents along the northern border in total.
The need for additional staff at local border crossings, particularly the Highgate Springs crossing, is an issue Franklin County officials and business leaders have raised repeatedly with the state’s Congressional delegation.
With an expanded and improved highway, Autoroute 35, connecting Montreal with Highgate Springs under construction, there have been concerns that staffing at the crossing was not sufficient for quick and efficient processing of visitors from Canada into the U.S.
The additional staff for the northern border could help alleviate that situation. Autoroute 35 is scheduled for completion in 2017 and would connect at Interstate 89 in Highgate.
Language that Senate President Leahy inserted into the bill will encourage a renewed focus on the St. Albans Vermont Service Center as the home base for and and a site for future job growth in the processing of immigration documents.
The service center employed 900 people at the Gil Tabor Complex in St. Albans as of December 2012 and 360 in Essex. However, when 200 additional positions were added at the end of last year those positions went to Essex.
Leahy also included $5 million for nearly 100 currently unfunded positions at the Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston.
Operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the center provides information on immigration status to local law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Secret Service.