Since its 1924 creation, the U.S. Border Patrol has served as the primary federal law-enforcement agency responsible for the prevention and detection of illegal immigrants, drugs, and contraband entering the United States along both the Mexican and Canadian borders. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security merged a number of federal law-enforcement agencies with the Border Patrol to create a new combined agency called U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The U.S. Border Patrol is a uniformed federal law-enforcement agency that was placed under the control of the Department of Homeland Security in 2001. After the
Since 2001, the Border Patrol’s primary mission has remained to detect undocumented aliens,
In the national war on drugs, the Border Patrol has continuously distinguished itself as one of the most effective law-enforcement agencies in the United States. The agency is particularly important in the struggle against rising drug-smuggling efforts along the southwestern border and has become one of the key agencies on the frontline of the war on drugs. In 2007 alone, Border Patrol agents seized more than 14,000 pounds of
The Border Patrol has also played a key role in apprehending undocumented aliens. In 2007, the agency’s agents arrested more than 850,000 people who attempted illegally to enter the United States. Over the next two years, this figure declined, but that was because of improved enforcement methods, improved infrastructure and management, and technological advances.
In 1904, during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential administration, the U.S. commissioner general of immigration assigned mounted inspectors to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border. The federal government initially hired only seventy-five men to patrol the nearly two-thousand-mile-long southern border of the United States, riding horses that the men personally owned. With occasional exceptions, this work was relatively uneventful over the next decade and a half, but it changed forever at midnight January 16, 1920. At that time, the
Border Patrol officers inspecting vehicles entering the United States from Mexico at Nogales, Arizona, in early 2005. Since the Border Patrol was placed under the new Department of Homeland Security in 2003, inspections at border crossings have become more intensive–along both the Mexican and Canadian borders. Inspectors are making increasing use of technology in their work and still use dogs trained to sniff out drugs and explosives.
With the onset of Prohibition, foreign borders became important routes for smugglers willing to stop at nothing to get their illegal products to their destinations. The smuggling of alcohol into the United States became a hugely profitable criminal enterprise during the 1920’s. Not surprisingly, dealing with smugglers soon became a major problem for the badly outnumbered mounted border inspectors. To deal with the problem, Congress passed the
In 1925, Congress expanded the mission of the Border Patrol to include protection of
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recombined the
Meanwhile, the jurisdiction of the Border Patrol continued to expand. In 1952, agents were first permitted, for the first time, to board and search transportation vehicles for illegal immigrants anywhere within the United States, not just along the borders. As the nation continued to grow, so did the staffing levels investigative and patrol efforts of the agency. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the Border Patrol had evolved into one of the nation’s most important federal law-enforcement agencies.
Throughout its history, the Border Patrol has continued to change dramatically. However, its chief mission has always been to detect and deter aliens attempting to enter the United States illegally. In cooperation with law-enforcement officers from such federal agencies as U.S. Customs, Immigration and Naturalization (INS), and the Department of Agriculture, Border Patrol agents have helped to maintain operational entry points into the United States and to facilitate the entry of legal immigrants and goods while preventing the illegal trafficking of people, drugs, and other types of contraband.
In addition to managing legal entry points along the borders, the Border Patrol has been responsible for patrolling the nearly six thousand miles of the Mexican and Canadian land borders and more than two thousand miles of coastal waters surrounding Puerto Rico and
By the year 2009, the Border Patrol had experienced massive growth. After starting with only a handful of mounted agents who patrolled uninhabited areas along U.S. borders, the agency expanded to employ more than seventeen thousand agents and more than three thousand support personnel. Much of this growth took place after the mid-1990’s, as Congress increased the agency’s funding to improve border security. Along with its increased funding, the
The Border Patrol accomplishes its primary mission of preventing immigrants from entering the United States illegally through several means:
•continuous surveillance of international borders and shorelines
•questioning informants and recently apprehended persons
•rapid response to electronic sensor alarms along
•interpreting and following human tracks
Other major activities that agents carry out include conducting city patrol and transportation checks, investigating drug and contraband smuggling operations, and conducting traffic checkpoints along highways leading from border areas. During the decade leading up to 2009, agents apprehended nearly 13 million aliens attempting to enter the United States illegally. This number is especially impressive in view of the many deserts, canyons, and mountains straddling the borders. Border Patrol police work differs from that of typical urban police officers in large part because of the added dangers of wildlife and harsh weather conditions. To make accomplishing their difficult mission possible, Border Patrol agents make extensive use of such high-tech equipment as electronic sensors, video monitors, and night vision scopes to detect people crossing the borders. Meanwhile, agents continue to patrol the borders on foot, on horseback, and in various types of vehicles including suburban utility vehicles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, boats, airplanes, and helicopters. They also use unmanned aerial vehicles operated by remote control computers.
Andreas, Peter. Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide. 2d ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2009. Scholarly work offering insights into the many political forces involved with U.S.-Mexican border patrol work. Provides details about how corruption and the drug trade have been variables in border policies. Bullock, Jane, and George Haddow. Introduction to Homeland Security. 2d ed. Burlington, Mass.: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006. Introductory text offering a comprehensive overview of the Department of Homeland Security. Examines the new cabinet department’s various agencies, including the Border Patrol, and their missions as they pertain to border security and combating terrorism. Maril, Robert. Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2006. Offers an ethnographic account of Border Patrol work on the frontlines of the U.S.-Mexican border, Documenting the lives of a handful of border patrol agents, Maril gives explicit details of positive and negative aspects of their work, including the element of danger that is unavoidable. Miller, Connie C. The U.S. Border Patrol: Guarding the Nation. New York: Capstone Press, 2008. Concise explanation of the history and mission of the Border Patrol as a law-enforcement entity. Excellent introductory work that provides details about the qualifications and importance of this highly regarded federal law-enforcement agency. Morgan, Lee. The Reaper’s Line: Life and Death on the Mexican Border. Tucson, Ariz.: Rio Nuevo, 2006. Firsthand account of work on the frontline of the U.S.-Mexican border by a former Border Patrol agent with three decades of experience. Morgan chronicles true-life tales of both success and horror stories along the border. Pacheco, Alex, and Erich Krauss. On the Line: Inside the U.S. Border Patrol. New York: Citadel Press, 2005. Told from the viewpoint of recently employed Border Patrol agents, this book provides details about the recruitment, training, and daily life of agents, as well as insights into the general problem of illegal border crossings. White, Richard, and Kevin Collins. The United States Department of Homeland Security: An Overview. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2006. Scholarly but nonetheless accessible examination of the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, providing details about the department’s various agencies and the role of the Border Patrol in combating terrorism.
Bureau of Immigration, U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.
Coast Guard, U.S.
El Paso incident
Homeland Security, Department of
Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S.
9/11 and U.S. immigration policy
Patriot Act of 2001