The U.S. government is on the brink of drastic budget cuts that would reduce border staffing by thousands of employees – and potentially add hours to Canadian visitors’ wait times.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano held a press conference Monday warning the $85-billion worth of cuts, which will take effect Friday if not averted by lawmakers, would hurt the economy by slowing down the influx of trade goods and travel.

“You won’t see an immediate shutdown, but it will accrue over the next few weeks,” Napolitano said. “Lines, procedures, wait times are all going to get longer.”

The sequester cuts would slash the department’s budget by five per cent, she added, resulting in up to 5,000 fewer Customs and Border Protection officers.

The looming layoffs have the many in Washington State, including Ken Oplinger of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, concerned about the impact on business.

“What’s going to happen is all the overtime is going to be cancelled, so staff that would normally open up lanes in peak times won’t be there,” Oplinger said.

The cuts would impact a litany of other government departments and agencies, including airports, where decreased security and air traffic controller staffing is also expected to add up to 90-minute-long waits.

Those delays, combined with longer border waits, could prove prohibitive for many of the thousands of Canadian travellers who opt to depart from U.S. airports annually to avoid higher fares back home.

Senate Republicans and Democrats are expected to make attempts to avoid the heavy spending cuts this week, but there is speculation that neither party’s proposal will be able to garner the votes needed to pass.

If the sequester cuts are implemented, decreased border staffing could be felt as early as this Friday, so any British Columbians heading to Washington over the weekend are advised to travel at non-peak times.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Julia Foy