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United States Border Patrol

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A Brief History of the United States Border Patrol

Shortly after the turn of the century, a small group of mounted Inspectors had their operational headquarters at El Paso, Texas. These Inspectors, later known as border mounted guards, patrolled the Mexican border near El Paso. Their mission was to curb the flow of Chinese aliens entering illegally to work on railroad expansion projects. The operational area was later extended to include New Mexico and Arizona.

The El Paso Border Patrol Sector was created on July 1, 1924 by the authority of the Immigration Act as approved by Congress on May 28, 1924. The Act established the Border Patrol as a uniformed law enforcement agency of the Immigration Bureau. The original El Paso Sector consisted of New Mexico and the three western counties of Texas. The first Border Patrol Inspectors were selected from the old mounted guards and off a civil service register for railroad postal clerks.

Prohibition was in its heyday. Aliens entering illegally were tempted with the promise of quick easy money to smuggle bootleg liquor into the United States. With the formal creation of an agency to combat illegal immigration and smuggling there came armed resistance to the new Patrol Inspectors. Old newspaper files from February 1927 indicate that not one 24 hour period passed with out a report of gunfire along the border between Fort Hancock and Anapra (70 miles). The reputation of tough compassionate Inspectors with a steady aim was born. In 1971 the Patrol Inspectors were renamed as Patrol Agents.

Currently Border Patrol operations are broken down into activities:

  • Linewatch (border watch) - Surveillance of the border in an attempt to apprehend illegal aliens and smugglers at the time of entry. Basic skills utilized by Agents includes sign cutting, which is the ancient art of tracking people by following their footprints across varying types of terrain.
  • Traffic Check - Agents maintain checkpoints on the major highways leading to the interior of the U.S. Traffic is stopped and all persons questioned as to their citizenship.
  • City Patrol - Searches out those illegal aliens seeking employment or who are gainfully employed in the business community.
  • Transportation Check - Inspection of interior bound conveyances, including: buses, commercial aircraft, passenger trains and freight trains.

The Border Patrol of 1997 consists of 6,500 Agents. These agents are stationed primarily along the southern border. Comparatively few Agents staff stations along the southeastern seaboard and the northern border. Patrol Agents operate 24 hours a day in all weather conditions utilizing a wide variety of vehicles. Their specialized training is often called upon by other agencies in a mutual assistance role: Federal, State and Local agencies have availed themselves of Border Patrol support. From air support to Search & Rescue to Medical teams, the U.S. Border Patrol responds to the need.

Today's Border Patrol

Today's Border Patrol has 21 sectors which are headed by chief patrol agents. Agents assigned to these sectors carry out enforcement activities at 145 stations located throughout the continental United States and in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Today the Border Patrol's mission is to protect the boundaries of the United States by preventing illegal entry, and by detecting, interdicting, and apprehending illegal aliens, smugglers, and contraband. To prevent and detect illegal entry, the Border Patrol patrols the border by land, sea, and air. To apprehend illegal aliens and smugglers, it checks traffic, public transportation, and vessels, and patrols the interior (e.g., looking for illegal aliens in areas over 25 miles from the border). In addition, the Border Patrol assists Investigations and Inspections staff in carrying out their missions. To do this, the Border Patrol is to check employers for illegal workers, visit local jails or state prisons to interview aliens, and identify alien smugglers.

Enforcement Strategy

The Border Patrol's border enforcement strategy has been to apprehend aliens after they had illegally entered the United States. After initially locating stations on the border and in the immediate border area, the Border Patrol established stations in nonborder areas that had concentrations of illegal aliens. For example, the El Paso, Texas; Warroad, Minnesota; and Niagara Falls, New York, stations on the Southwest and Canadian Borders were established in 1924. In 1926, the Miami, Florida, station was established because aliens were being smuggled into the United States from Cuba. Generally, stations over 100 miles from the border, such as the stations in Dallas and San Antonio, Texas; and Boulder City, Nevada, that were opened between 1986 and 1988, were opened because there were large numbers of illegal aliens in those areas. However, INS did not establish Border Patrol stations in some large metropolitan areas known to have substantial alien populations, such as New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, because these cities generally were considered to be the final destination for many illegal aliens. The strategy at the time called for stopping illegal aliens before they had reached their final destination. Recently, the Border Patrol's enforcement strategy along the Southwest Border changed from apprehending aliens after they had illegally entered to deterring them from entering in the first place. The new strategy is to concentrate agents on the border to raise aliens' risk of apprehension to a maximum level and thereby deter aliens and alien smugglers from attempting illegal entry.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 allows for increasing the resources for the Border Patrol so as to help stem the flow of illegal aliens crossing the Southwest Border. To achieve this, the act authorized increases in the number of Border Patrol agents and support staff. The increases are to be not less than 1,000 agents each year for fiscal years 1995 through 1998. These agents and other additional staff are being hired to support INS' new border enforcement strategy of "prevention through deterrence." Under this strategy, more Border Patrol agents are to be deployed on the border to discourage aliens from entering illegally.

At the end of fiscal year 1994, the Border Patrol had assigned 3,911 of its 4,260 Border Patrol agents to 145 Border Patrol stations. As of September 1995, it had hired and finished training 530 Border Patrol agents and had an additional 369 agents in training.

The Border Patrol's Mission

The Border Patrol, as the mobile, uniformed, enforcement arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, has as its mission, the detection and prevention of the smuggling and illegal entry of aliens into the United States. Patrol Agents perform their duties along, and in the vicinity of, some 8,000 miles of international boundaries by automobile, boat, aircraft and afoot.

From the beginning, the Border Patrol has maintained a reputation for getting the job done. Its officers have always displayed an extreme loyalty to the Service and fine esprit de corps. The Border Patrol story is one of long hours and hard work. It is a story of hours, days and often months of dull, routine patrol that is occasionally marked with intense action, suspense and danger. This inherent danger is illustrated by the fact that over 60 Patrol Agents have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The Old Patrol

As early as 1904 a small group of "Mounted Inspectors" had been assigned by the Commissioner-General of Immigration to patrol along the southern border. As early immigration controls increased it became clear that this token force of "Mounted Inspectors" (never numbering more than 75), was completely inadequate to cope with the increasing number of aliens who were entering the country illegally.

On May 28, 1924, The department of Labor Appropriation Act provided for the permanent establishment of a "Border Patrol". Initially 450 officers were appointed to the newly formed "Border Patrol". These officers were hastily recruited and inadequately trained and equipped. For several months they worked in civilian clothing , having no official uniform. What these officers lacked in training and equipment, they made up for in their enthusiasm and determination.

This initial group of officers were tasked with the prevention of smuggling and illegal entry of aliens across 6,000 miles of land borders. In 1925 an additional border of over 2,000 miles extending along the Gulf and Florida coasts was added to their patrol areas.

In 1930 the Border Patrol arrested 20,915 smuggled aliens and 1, 427 assorted criminals on charges ranging from gun and drug smuggling to murder.

Border Geography

The Mexican border extends eastward from San Ysidro, California through mountains,deserts, canyons, and rich agricultural lands for 1,945 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. In some areas this border is a barely discernible line between concrete boundary markers in uninhabited desert country and in others it is divided by a large steel fence.

In some places it is the dividing line between thriving border cities in both countries. Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico are examples. In other areas, such as El Paso and Laredo Texas, only the Rio Grande separates these cities from sister cities in Mexico. From El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico the meanderings of the Rio Grande add some 500 miles to the length of the border. The boundary here ranges from dry river beds, which sometimes becomes a raging torrent, to canyons.

The 3,987 miles of Canada-United States Border has often been referred to as the longest undefended border in the world. It ranges from Point Roberts, Washington through mountains forests, and desert country in a straight line along tile 49th parallel to the Lake of the Woods Minnesota. From there the border follows a series of lakes and rivers, through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, through the forests of Maine to Calais.

Because of the nearness to this country of the many islands in the Caribbean and around the tip of Florida, the coastal area is considered to be another border. This southeastern sea border extends 2057 miles along the Gulf and Florida coasts.'s USBP Message Center

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National Border Patrol Council Local # 2544 Tucson Sector
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