Border Patrol Agent: Do You Have What It Takes?Border Patrol Agent
The Border Patrol Agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security, are a tough breed. They are responsible for ensuring that no terrorists and their weapons are able to pass through our borders and endanger all Americans. At present, there are more than 20,000 Border Patrol Agents take charge in monitoring 1,900 miles of our border with Mexico and 5,000 miles of our border with Canada. By making sure that only lawful trade and travel is allowed, Border Patrol Agents are part of a very noble profession—that of protecting the United States and its people from anyone seeking to do it harm.
But not everyone who wants to be can become a Border Patrol Agent (BPA). The selection and training process is one of the most rigorous among all federal law enforcement agencies, save perhaps for Marine boot camp. Should you happen to pass these then your job as a BPA will be challenging at best and dangerous at worst. So if you’re thinking of applying to become a BPA, ask yourself the following questions. Your answers will help you gauge whether a career in the frontlines is for you.
Do you believe in the mission of the U.S. Border Patrol? Before you can become a truly dedicated member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection team, you first have to be convinced that what the CBP is doing is necessary and worthwhile. You have to believe that there is a need to protect our borders, that the dangers Americans face in the hands of terrorists are real, and that BPAs are doing an honorable and significant job. If you don’t or only believe in these things halfheartedly, you are not going to have a fulfilling career with the CBP.
Are you ready for the physical demands of the job? Border Patrol Agents work in the outdoors, patrolling long stretches of land—sometimes on foot—in almost any kind of weather. Line watching, vehicle inspections, and chasing lawless elements are part and parcel of the job. Even before you become an official BPA, you still have to pass two pre-employment physical fitness tests that will determine if you can handle these physical demands. In this position, you need to have cardiovascular endurance, strength, and stamina. Simply put, you have to be in the best of health. Otherwise, you can’t do your job effectively.
Can you handle boredom? The work of Border Patrol Agents is not exciting all the time. It’s not every day that you get to chase illegal entrants or investigate suspected contraband. So once patrol duty is done and everything is in order, then you’re pretty much left with nothing to do. If the thought of doing nothing, especially if you’re on your own leaves you mad, then maybe you should think long and hard before becoming an agent.
Are you comfortable with danger? As a Border Patrol Agent, you are going to be dealing not only with illegal migrants who wish for a better life in the United States. The individuals that make your job dangerous are the criminals, drug syndicates, and other lawless elements who try to smuggle goods and people into the border. Some agents have been gunned down by these groups in the past so the dangers of the job are only all too real. You have to be comfortable having a career where risk a natural part of your work.
Do you qualify? Even if you are able to answer all the four questions above but do not meet the basic requirements then you would still not have what it takes to become a Border Patrol Agent. These basic requirements will be discussed in the next section.
Border Patrol Agent: Qualifying Requirements
To become a border patrol agent, you need to possess the basic requirements to qualify. These are the following:
- Meet citizenship requirements: Only U.S. Citizens can apply.
- Meet the residency requirement: Resided in the U.S. for at least three years before the application.
- Meet the age requirement: Be less than 40 years at the time of appointment. The age restriction can be waived if you are a qualified Veteran’s Preference eligible candidate or have previous law enforcement experience.
- Must possess a valid state driver’s license.
- Meet the Spanish language requirement: You must be proficient in the language or be able to learn it while training at the Border Patrol Academy.
- Pass the two pre-employment physical fitness tests, drug tests, and medical examination.
- Pass the polygraph test.
- Be able to pass the background investigation: Possible disqualifying factors include convictions (includes felonies and misdemeanor crimes domestic violence charges), past or present arrests, dismissals from previous jobs, debts and financial issues, excessive use of alcohol, and involvement with illegal drugs.
- Meet the experience and/or education requirements: You must possess the required work experience and/or education if you want to qualify. At the entry level (GL-5), one year work experience that showcases your ability to take charge and maintain rational decisions in times of intense stress is necessary. The work experience must have also demonstrated your ability to learn law enforcement regulations and techniques through classroom instruction and hands-on training.
If your work experience involves your ability to arrest criminals and use firearms responsibly, enabled you to deal with various groups of people courteously and tactfully regarding matters about law enforcement, gave you the chance you to analyze information rapidly and make decisions about them, and developed and maintained contact with a network of informants then you can qualify at the GL-7 level which will mean a higher starting pay.
You may be able to use education if you do not have the mandatory work experience. At the entry-level, you need to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university if you want to qualify. For the GS-7 level, however, you need to have one (1) full year of graduate education in law or in fields related to law enforcement such as criminal justice or police science to qualify. Without graduate education, you may still qualify provided that you have superior academic achievement for the experience required at the GL-7 level. To qualify under SAA, you must have completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale; have a class standing in the upper third of a graduating class or major subdivision; or be a member of the national scholastic honor society.
Border Patrol Agent: Duties
Border Patrol Agents work to decrease the chances that terrorists and/or their weapons can get into the country. With the help of various equipment and methods, they ensure that our land borders are secure by performing the following duties:
Linewatching and Signcutting. Linewatching and signcutting operations involve monitoring the borders using sensors and other equipment and watching for any sign of disturbance in the natural terrain to see if people, vehicles, or animals have attempted to pass the border. These operations are usually done close to international boundaries and coastlines. For inaccessible border regions, agents even have to do these duties on foot.
Conducting Traffic Checkpoints. Traffic checkpoints are an integral part of the job of border patrol agents because doing so prevents many illegal aliens from traveling further inland even if they have escaped detection at the border. These checkpoints also prevent narcotics from reaching their destinations in the U.S.
Transportation Checks. Buses, commercial aircraft, trains, and marine crafts that are bound for the interior United States can be used to transport not only humans but other smuggled contraband as well. These checks deter these illegal activities which has cost the U.S. a sizable sum in lost revenues each year.
Horse and Bike Patrol. When a border region is inaccessible by all-terrain vehicle, border patrol agents can use horses and bikes to patrol the area.
Because of their efforts, Border Patrol Agents have made more than half a billion arrests of aliens who tried to enter the country illegally. Security has been considerably heightened in the Southwest border as the CBP has also collaborated with other federal agencies both in the U.S. and Mexico and this has resulted to a decline in the number of aliens who try to enter the country illegally. Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, CA, Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, TX, Operation Rio Grande in McAllen, TX, Operation Safeguard in Tucson, AZ, and the Arizona Border Control Initiative (ABCI) along the Arizona border are just some of the main initiatives that have greatly fortified security in these border regions.
The trafficking of cocaine and marijuana—once so rampant along the Southwest border—has also greatly decreased as the CBP has beefed up the number of its Border Patrol Agents. The war on drugs has won major victories because of the work of the CBP and its frontline agents. In 2009, for example, border patrol agents were able to confiscate close to 11,000 pounds of cocaine and nearly 3 million pounds of marijuana.
Border Patrol Agent: Special Operations Group
The main task of Border Patrol Agents is to protect the citizens of the United States by preventing the entry of terrorists and their weapons into the United States by strengthening control of the U.S. borders. However, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency understands that this is not enough. There are specially dangerous and uncommon situations that call for specific training, more physical strength, and enhanced mental prowess. And there is such a group within the CBP—the Special Operations Group (SOG).
The SOG has three specially-trained units that respond to events that are beyond the normal scope of duties of regular Border Patrol Agents. These units are the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC); Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit (BORSTAR); and the Border Patrol Special Response Team. Each component possesses its own history and specialized field of expertise.
The BORTAC was created in 1984 to curb civil unrest in INS detention facilities. From that task, the BORTAC is now able to able to serve high-risk warrants, intelligence/reconnaissance and surveillance, foreign internal defense training, airmobile operations, maritime operations, and precision marksman/observer. What makes the BORTAC unique is that its immediate response capability to emergency and high-risk incidents is not only confined to the U.S. but they are able to do so globally as well.
Its full-time team members hold headquarters in El Paso, Texas while its non-full time members are on standby and can join them any time they are called to. BORTAC members conduct training and operations in other countries as well. For instance, it has conducted training to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Before one can become a BORTAC member, he or she must pass the BORTAC Operator Training Course which is said to be grueling. Candidates are initially tested to determine if they have the physical capability to become part of this SOG. The final initial test involves completing a timed six-mile ruck march with a weighted pack. Candidates must also pass the swimming, treading water, and drown-proofing tests. Those who pass will be subjected to intense training in small unit tactics, operation planning, advanced weapon skills, defensive tactics, and airmobile operations. Before they can graduate, the trainees must be able to function in a stressful environment as a team even with lack of sleep.
The BORSTAR is a highly-specialized unit whose primary mission is conducting emergency search and rescue situations all over the United States. This SOG was formed in 1998 to curb the growing number of migrant deaths in the nation’s border. Now, in addition to providing assistance to illegals, the BORSTAR is also called upon to rescue fellow border patrol agents, residents, and visitors who find themselves trapped in these hostile environments without food or water.
BORSTAR members are actually Border Patrol Agents who volunteer to serve beyond their regular tour of duty. They must have served for two years as agents before they can apply for and pass the selection process at the BORSTAR Academy. In this five-week training, they are taught search and rescue techniques and other skills in the areas of tactical medicine, technical rescue, land navigation, communication, swiftwater rescue, and air operations. Teamwork is emphasized closely in all trainings. After they have completed training, BORSTAR agents attend an emergency medical technician course so that they will receive a Basic Emergency Medical Technician certificate. If they want, BORSTAR agents can get additional specialized training after successfully completing academy training. Depending on their interest, they can get further training to become paramedics, police safety divers, or rescue watercraft/boat operators. They can also get coldweather operations training.
Border Patrol Agent: Coping with your New Life at the Duty Station
Once you have successfully completed training at the Border Patrol Academy, new border patrol agent recruits are sent to their assigned duty locations. Now all the training at the academy may have prepared you to become an efficient and effective border patrol agent. But it may not have prepared you for what to expect while you are living there. So we have prepared some tips to help you cope with your new life at the duty station you are assigned in.
- Learn as much as you can about the duty station you will be assigned in. Take note of the culture, the facilities, and schools in the area. Remember, you will be living in border towns where the food, culture, and way of life are different from what you are used to so much research is needed. Nowadays, this kind of information is easier to find on the Internet. The CBP can also direct you to a relocation service company to help you with your move. If your family is accompanying you to your duty station, doing the necessary research is indispensable. The most important aspect of your search should be the peace and order situation so that you can brief your family on ways to secure their own safety while you are on duty.
- Bring money. Based on the experience of border patrol agents who have made the move to their first duty station, the financial cost is substantial. Thus, it is highly-recommended that you have a significant amount of savings and cash to bring along. Relocating, especially with your family, is undoubtedly going to be expensive and having money makes the move more comfortable.
- Prepare the rest of your family members. Your spouse and children need as much preparation as you do. Brief your husband or wife about such important things as where the grocery store or market is, the kind of life that can be expected there, and the like. Tell your kids about the school that you plan to enroll them in. It is also a very good idea if you let them learn Spanish as well so that they won’t have any problems communicating and getting around once you have made the move. If your spouse intends to work, you should also find information on the job opportunities in the area beforehand as well.
The toughest part in the life of a border patrol agent is perhaps adjusting to the life in a new duty station. But by doing the necessary research and by briefing everyone who is going along with you, the whole move can be treated like an adventure for the entire family.