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Border Patrol Agents

The Job

Border patrol agents are federal law enforcement officers. The laws that they are hired to enforce deal with immigration and customs. U.S. immigration law states that people wishing to enter the United States must apply to the government for permission to do so. Those who want to work, study, or vacation in the United States must have appropriate visas. Those who want to move here and stay must apply for citizenship. Customs laws regulate materials, crops, and goods entering the United States. To ensure that foreigners follow these rules, border patrol officers are stationed at every border entry point of the United States.

Members of the border patrol cover the border on foot, on horseback, in cars or jeeps, in motorboats, in airplanes, on all-terrain vehicles, and, most recently, on mountain bikes. They track people near the borders to detect those who attempt to enter the country illegally. They may question people who live or work near the border to help identify illegal aliens. When border patrol agents find violators of U.S. immigration laws, they are authorized to apprehend and detain the violators. They may deport, or return, illegal aliens to their country, or arrest anyone who is assisting foreigners to enter the country illegally.

Border patrol agents work with local and state law enforcement agencies in discharging their duties. Although the uniformed patrol is directed from Washington, D.C., the patrol must have a good working relationship with officials in all of the border states. Local and state agencies can be very helpful to border patrol agents, primarily because these agencies are aware of the peculiarities of the terrain in their area, and they are familiar with the operating procedures of potential aliens or drug smugglers.

Border patrol agents work 24 hours a day along the borders with Mexico and Canada. During this time border patrol agents may be called upon to do a variety of things, from snow or desert rescues of illegal aliens to catching attempted murderers or apprehending stolen vehicles. The work is occasionally violent and they may have to dodge gunfire. At night, border patrol agents may use night-vision goggles to spot trespassers. In rugged areas that are difficult to patrol on foot or on horseback, helicopters are used for greater coverage. At regular border crossing points, officers check all incoming vehicles for people or materials hidden in car trunks or truck compartments.

The prevention of drug smuggling has become a major part of the border patrol agent's work. The increase in drug traffic from Central and South America has led to increased efforts by the CBP to control the border with Mexico. Drug-sniffing dogs have been added to the patrol's arsenal. Work for border patrol agents has become more dangerous in recent years, and all officers are specially trained in the use of firearms.

Occasionally, border patrol agents may also be called upon to help local law enforcement groups in their work. This may involve searching for lost hikers or travelers in rugged wilderness areas of the northern or southern United States.

As a result of its merger in 2003 with several other protective and monitoring agencies of the U.S. government, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection created a new position, the customs and border protection (CBP) officer, which consolidates the skills and responsibilities of three positions in these agencies: the customs inspector, the immigration officer, and the agricultural inspector. These workers are uniformed and armed. A second position, the CBP agriculture specialist, was created to complement the work of the CBP officer. CBP agriculture specialists are uniformed, but not armed.

CBP officers conduct surveillance at points of entry into the United States to prohibit smuggling, detect customs violations, and deter acts of terrorism. They try to catch people illegally transporting smuggled merchandise and contraband such as narcotics, watches, jewelry, chemicals, and weapons, as well as fruits, plants, and meat that may be infested with pests or diseases. On the waterfront, officers monitor piers, ships, and crew members and are constantly on the lookout for items being thrown from the ship to small boats nearby.

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