The United States Border Patrol is a federal law enforcement agency within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its 16,000 agents are primarily responsible for immigration and border law enforcement as codified in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Their duty is to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States and to deter, detect, and apprehend illegal immigrants and individuals involved in the illegal drug trade who enter the United States other than through designated ports of entry.
In March 1915, Congress authorized a separate group of mounted guards, often referred to as "mounted inspectors". Most rode on horseback, but a few operated automobiles and boats. Although these inspectors had broader arrest authority, they still largely pursued Chinese immigrants trying to avoid the National Origins Act and Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. These patrolmen were Immigrant Inspectors, assigned to inspection stations, and could not watch the border at all times. U.S. Army troops along the southwest border performed intermittent border patrolling, but this was secondary to "the more serious work of military training." Non-nationals encountered illegally in the U.S. by the army were directed to the immigration inspection stations. Texas Rangers were also sporadically assigned to patrol duties by the state, and their efforts were noted as "singularly effective".
The Border Patrol was founded on May 28, 1924 as an agency of the United States Department of Labor to prevent illegal entries along the Mexico–United States border. Additional operations were established along the Gulf Coast in 1927 to perform crewman control to insure that non-American crewmen departed on the same ship on which they arrived. Additional stations were temporarily added along the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Eastern Seaboard during the sixties when Cuba came under dictatorial control and entertained ideas of establishing USSR missile bases there.
Prior to 2003, the Border Patrol was part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), an agency that was within the U.S. Department of Justice. INS was disbanded in March 2003 when its operations were divided between CBP, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The priority mission of the Border Patrol, as a result of the 9/11 attacks and its merging into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States of America. However, the Border Patrol's traditional mission remains as the deterrence, detection and apprehension of illegal immigrants and individuals involved in the illegal drug trade who generally enter the United States other than through designated ports of entry.
Currently, the U.S. Border Patrol employs over 16,000 agents, and is responsible for patrolling of land and sea borders. Border Patrol personnel are deployed primarily at the U.S.-Mexico border, where they are assigned to control drug trafficking and illegal immigration. Patrols on horseback have made a comeback since smugglers have been pushed into the more remote mountainous regions, which are hard to cover with modern tracking strategies.
The Border Patrol's priorities have changed over the years. In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act placed renewed emphasis on controlling illegal immigration by going after the employers that hire illegal immigrants. The belief was that jobs were the magnet that attracted most illegal immigrants to come to the United States. The Border Patrol increased interior enforcement and Form I-9 audits of businesses through an inspection program known as "employer sanctions". Several agents were assigned to interior stations, such as within the Livermore Sector in Northern California.
Employer sanctions never became the effective tool it was expected to be by Congress. Illegal immigration continued to swell after the 1986 amnesty despite employer sanctions. By 1993, Californians passed Proposition 187, denying benefits to illegal immigrants and criminalizing illegal immigrants in possession of forged green cards, I.D. cards and Social Security Numbers. It also authorized police officers to question non-nationals as to their immigration status and required police and sheriff departments to cooperate and report illegal immigrants to the INS. Proposition 187 drew nation-wide attention to illegal immigration.
In response to illegal immigration in 1994, the Border Patrol came up with a new strategy for addressing illegal immigrants. In 1992, "over half of all southwest border apprehensions occurred along only 18 of the 1,600 border miles—13 miles along the border between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, and along the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. In 1991, Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned Sandia National Laboratory to study more effective ways of stopping the flow of aliens and drugs into the United States. The "Sandia Study" concluded that the Border Patrol's traditional method of apprehension was ineffective. The Sandia Study recommended deterrence and the use of technology (cameras) and infrastructure (fences and other barriers) to control illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent (and future U.S. congressman) Silvestre Reyes started a program called "Operation Hold the Line". In this program, Border Patrol agents would no longer react to illegal entries resulting in apprehensions, but would instead be forward deployed to the border, immediately detecting any attempted entries or deterring crossing at a more remote location. The idea was that it would be easier to capture illegal entrants in the wide open deserts than through the urban alleyways. Chief Reyes deployed his agents along the Rio Grande River, within eyesight of other agents. The program significantly reduced illegal entries in the urban part of El Paso, however, the operation merely shifted the illegal entries to other areas.
San Diego Sector tried Silvestre Reyes' approach of forward deploying agents to deter illegal entries into the country. Congress authorized the hiring of thousands of new agents, and many were sent to San Diego Sector. In addition, Congressman Duncan Hunter obtained surplus military landing mats to use as a border fence. Stadium lighting, ground sensors and infra-red cameras were also placed in the area. Apprehensions decreased dramatically in that area as people crossed in different regions.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security created two immigration enforcement agencies out of the defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). ICE was tasked with investigations, detention and removal of illegal immigrants, and interior enforcement. CBP was tasked with inspections at U.S. ports of entry and with preventing illegal entries between the port of entry, transportation check, and entries on U.S. coastal borders. DHS management decided to align the Border Patrol with CBP. CBP itself is solely responsible for the nation's ports of entry, while Border Patrol maintains jurisdiction over all locations between ports of entry, giving Border Patrol agents federal authority absolutely nationwide.
In July 2004, the Livermore Sector of the United States Border Patrol was closed. Livermore Sector served Northern California and included stations at Dublin (Parks Reserve Forces Training Area), Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield. The Border Patrol also closed other stations in the interior of the United States including Roseburg, Oregon and Little Rock, Arkansas]. The Border Patrol functions in these areas consisted largely of local jail and transportation terminal checks for illegal immigrants. These functions were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In November 2005, the U.S. Border Patrol published an updated national strategy. The goal of this updated strategy is operational control of the United States border. The strategy has five main objectives:
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (signed by President Bush on December 17, 2004) authorized hiring an additional 10,000 agents, "subject to appropriation". This authorization, if fully implemented, would nearly double the Border Patrol manpower from 11,000 to 21,000 agents by 2010.
In July 2005, Congress signed the Emergency Supplemental Spending Act for military operations in Iraq/Afghanistan and other operations. The act also appropriated funding to increase Border Patrol manpower by 500 Agents. In October 2005, President Bush also signed the DHS FY06 Appropriation bill, funding an additional 1,000 Agents.
In November 2005, President George W. Bush made a trip to southern Arizona to discuss more options that would decrease illegal crossings at the U.S. and Mexican border. In his proposed fiscal year 2007 budget he has requested an additional 1,500 Border Patrol agents.
The Secure Fence Act, signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2006, has met with much opposition. In October 2007, environmental groups and concerned citizens filed a restraining order hoping to halt the construction of the fence, set to be built between the United States and Mexico. The act mandates that the fence be built by December 2008. Ultimately, the United States seeks to put fencing around the border, but the act requires only of fencing. DHS secretary Michael Chertoff has bypassed environmental and other oppositions with a waiver that was granted to him by Congress in Section 102 of the act, which allows DHS to avoid any conflicts that would prevent a speedy assembly of the fence.
This action has led many environment groups and landowners to speak out against the impending construction of the fence. ) Environment and wildlife groups fear that the plans to clear brush, construct fences, install bright lights, motion sensors, and cameras will scare wildlife and endanger the indigenous species of the area. Environmentalists claim that the ecosystem could be affected due to the fact that a border fence would restrict movement of all animal species, which in turn would keep them from water and food sources on one side or another. Desert plants would also feel the impact, as they would be uprooted in many areas where the fence is set to occupy.
Property owners in these areas fear a loss of land. Landowners would have to give some of their land over to the government for the fence. Citizens also fear that communities will be split. Many students travel over the border every day to attend classes at the University of Texas at Brownsville. Brownsville mayor Pat Ahumada favors alternative options to a border fence. He suggests that the Rio Grande River be widened and deepened to provide for a natural barrier to hinder illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.
In 2007, the Border Patrol created the Special Operations Group to coordinate the specialized units of the agency.
Rank insignia are worn on the collars of the shirt and the shoulders of the jacket.
The Border Patrol's highest honor is the Newton-Azrak Award for Heroism. This Award is bestowed to Border Patrol agents killed in the line of duty. It is also presented to agents for extraordinary contributions, service, or accomplishments reflecting unusual courage or bravery in the line of duty, or an extraordinarily heroic or humane act committed during times of extreme stress or in an emergency.
This award is named for Border Patrol Inspectors Newton and Azrak, who were murdered by two drug smugglers in San Diego County in 1967.