Getting to Know the Border Patrol

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For more than 75 years, the U.S. Border Patrol has done its part in keeping the United States safe from the entry of illegal aliens. Now, the mandate of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has extended to patrolling more than just our land and marine borders. The events of 9/11 have radically changed how the CBP operates and at present, its primary goal is to keep the country safe from the entry of terrorists and/or terrorist weapons. They also see to it that the flow of international legal trade and the entry and exit of those individuals who can lawfully do so is not restricted even as they stay on alert for those who might enter the United States illegally. 

In its early years, those who patrolled the U.S. borders rode on horseback and hence were called Mounted Guards. They were from the U.S. Immigration Service and tried to restrict illegal Chinese immigration by operating from El Paso in Texas all the way west to California. They were few in number—less than 75—and their inspections were sporadic as they only patrolled when their resources enabled them to do so. But they were quite effective despite their limitations.

By 1915, Congress decided it was high time to authorize another set of Mounted Guards who had more arresting powers. Called Mounted Inspectors, they still rode on horseback but some were already assigned to do their checks from cars and boats. But because the task of patrolling the U.S. border was a huge one, other law enforcement groups also contributed. For instance, those military troops located along the southwest border did patrol work when they were not on military training. Texas Rangers also did their share of border patrol duties.

As the U.S. imposed stricter immigration standards—e.g. higher literacy requirement—more and more aliens wanted to get into the country through illegal means. It also became clear to the Immigration authorities that inadequate enforcement of customs and immigration laws necessitated the formation of an independent organization for the purpose. They would specifically be trained and be equipped to guard the border. In 1924, Congress established the U.S. Border Patrol to secure land borders and in 1925, authorized them to patrol the seacoast.

From halting smuggling operations of people and goods to repatriating illegal aliens back to their homeland, especially to Mexico were most illegal entrants came from—all these comprise the work of the early border patrol agents. Later in the 1960s when there was an increase of hijacking attempts, border patrol agents were assigned to go on flights to prevent total takeovers.

Today, the U.S. Border Patrol has grown in number, scope, and capacity than ever before. Programs like Operation “Hold the Line” and Operation “Gatekeeper” were highly successful in preventing the entry of illegal migrants to the United States. The terror attacks on September 11, 2001 broadened the focus of the U.S. Border Patrol even more and brought homeland security to the fore. Now, the prevention of the entry of terrorists and/or their weapons to the country is one of the primary missions of the agency which is now placed under the Department of Homeland Security.