In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, numerous changes were made at federal agencies. For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was founded on November 25, 2002. Among the agencies that are part of DHS is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP. 

CBP became the first comprehensive border security agency in the U.S. on March 1, 2003. The agency’s focus is to maintain the integrity of the nation’s boundaries and ports of entry.

Before the creation of CBP, security, compliance and facilitation of international travel and trade were conducted by multiple organizations. These roles and responsibilities were consolidated at CBP. In broad terms, CBP’s mission is to develop seamless security procedures while ensuring compliance with the nation’s immigration, health and international trade laws and regulations.

CBP was established by combining a number of existing federal agencies. Among these were: 

The U.S. Customs Service traces its original functions to July 31, 1789, early in the history of the United States. A number of other federal agencies and bureaus were originally a part of the U.S. Customs Service. The majority of Customs Service personnel and their functions were transferred to CBP when it was created.

Immigration inspectors, who can trace their responsibilities to the establishment of the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration on March 3, 1891. The Office was created at that time due to the waves of immigrants coming to the United States in the 1890s and thereafter.

Agriculture inspectors, whose roles were mandated by the passage of the Plant Quarantine Act on August 20, 1912.

Border Patrol agents, whose responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the U.S. borders came from the authorization by Congress for the hiring of Border Patrol personnel on May 28, 1924.

Since CBP’s founding, air and marine monitoring capabilities were increased by the formation of its third uniformed division, the Office of Air and Marine, which occurred on January 17, 2006.

In addition, the Office of International Trade (OT) was established on October 15, 2006. With its creation, trade policy, program development and compliance measurement functions were consolidated in one CBP office.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investing in technology to improve rail cargo inspections. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Customs history goes back to the nation’s founding

On July 31, 1789, the First United States Congress created an organization of customs collection districts under the direction of appointed collectors of customs. This legislative act was the fifth piece of legislation dealt with by that Congress, pointing to its importance to the U.S. Creation of the customs function even preceded the formation of the Department of the Treasury by 32 days (the Treasury Department was established on September 2, 1789). The regulation and control of the collection districts and collectors was placed under the direct management of the Secretary of the Treasury. 

A Maersk containership at the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

CBP today

With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the largest law enforcement organizations in the world. It is CBP’s responsibility to keep terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.

As the nation’s first unified border entity, CBP has a comprehensive mandate that combines border management and control, customs, immigration, border security and agricultural protection.

While CBP’s uniformed employees are critical, they comprise only a portion of CBP’s specialized employees. These include forensic scientists, international trade specialists and other specialists who make CBP’s processes more secure, cost-effective and efficient.

The United States has 328 ports of entry. More than 21,000 CBP officers inspect/examine passengers and cargo at these ports. There are an additional 14 pre-clearance locations in Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Ireland and the Middle East.

To curtail the spread of harmful pests as well as plant and animal diseases that may harm America’s farms and food supply (or cause bio- and agro-terrorism) there are more than 2,200 CBP agriculture specialists.

Over 21,370 Border Patrol agents protect and patrol the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border as well as the 5,000-mile U.S.-Canada border.

More than 1,000 Air and Marine Interdiction agents work to prevent people, weapons, narcotics, etc. from illegally entering the U.S. by air and water.

Almost 2,500 CBP employees collect over $30 billion annually in entry duties and taxes by enforcing trade and tariff laws. These employees also fulfill the CBP’s trade mission through the appraisal and classification of imported merchandise. 

CBP also is responsible for the Container Security Initiative, which identifies and inspects foreign cargo at its origin. CBP works jointly with host nation counterparts to identify and screen containers that may pose a risk at the foreign port of departure before those containers are loaded on U.S.-bound vessels. The program is active in 20 of the largest container shipping ports as well as at 58 other ports worldwide.

A third temperature-controlled federal import inspection facility is set to open in Laredo, Texas, for cross-border produce from Mexico. Pictured are Customs and Border Protection agents in McAllen, Texas. (Photo: CBP)