CBP Jurisdiction & Investigative Priorities


As the largest law enforcement organization in the country, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has jurisdictional authority over much of the U.S. It is authorized by the U.S. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to maintain the integrity of the nation’s boundaries and preserve public safety by inspecting all persons, materials and goods that cross the country’s borders. The two primary groups of personnel responsible for enforcing federal customs and immigration laws are the CBP Officers and the U.S. Border Patrol.

CBP Officers possess broad authority to ensure that any goods or persons which enter or leave the U.S. cannot inflict harm upon the country or its citizens. CBP Officers are authorized to perform a range of duties if deemed appropriate:

  • Search and seizure—CBP Officers do not need a search warrant and may search anyone at a port of entry that they deem to be suspicious. This authority extends to any vehicle, train or aircraft within 100 miles of a U.S. border.
  • Interrogation—In order to investigate a suspected crime, an officer may question anyone who they believe is committing or could potentially commit a crime.
  • Arrest authority—CBP Officers may carry firearms on and off the job, and use their authority to arrest any individuals who they believe is guilty of committing or planning a crime.

Border Patrol Agents possess similar powers as CBP Officers but are deployed to areas without official ports of entry. These agents are primarily concerned with detecting and preventing unauthorized entry of aliens, smugglers and illicit goods like weapons and narcotics. While CBP Officers are primarily stationed at entry points, Border Patrol Agents are provided considerable latitude to pursue offenders into American and, even foreign communities. Agents may use vehicles, aircraft and naval vessels to pursue and apprehend any suspected offenders.

Investigative Priorities

The highest priority of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is ensuring that no terrorists, Weapons of Mass Destruction or potentially hazardous materials enter the United States. In the course of performing their duties at airports, seaports, railway stations and border crossings CBP officials apprehend almost 1,000 suspects each day.

There are 328 ports of entry to the U.S. Each of these stations are manned by highly trained and experienced CBP Officers who closely monitor every individual, cargo container and package for possible threats to U.S. national security or the safety of the American public. CBP Officers screen all human and commercial traffic for inconsistencies with passenger or goods manifests, improper visas or immigration documents and suspicious behavior. Any evidence of wrongdoing immediately initiates an inspection of the arriving or departing conveyance along with intensive questioning of passengers, foreign immigration and transportation officials and work crews.

CBP Officers are trained to investigate situations which may involve a potential terrorist, narcotics trafficking or illegal contraband. Working closely with a team of experts, CBP Officers identify potentially hazardous or illicit materials and determine if it poses a threat to others. Because of the enormous traffic into and out of the U.S., CBP Officers are expected to maintain alertness and vigilance even under the most demanding situations.

In addition to monitoring passengers, cargo and transport personnel, CBP Officers are often involved in law enforcement and anti-terrorism operations. They will use firearms, canine units and advanced inspection systems to determine if illegal contraband, weapons or unauthorized aliens may be stowed on transports or vehicles.

The primary investigative priorities are

  • Detecting and halting terrorist activity—any materials or people who may be involved in terrorism must be intercepted
  • Narcotics smuggling—whether by air, water or ground, smuggling of street narcotics, fake pharmaceuticals and designer drugs is investigated and prevented
  • Human smuggling—many criminal organizations offer unauthorized immigrants the opportunity to illegally enter the U.S.
  • Financial operations—theft of U.S. and international property including intellectual property is now a high priority

U.S. Border Patrol Agents may be deployed in aircraft, marine vessels and land vehicles to monitor the integrity of the nation’s land, air and sea boundaries. These highly trained professionals detect and halt the entry of unauthorized personnel and materials into the U.S. While the primary goal of U.S. Border Patrol Agents is to prevent unauthorized immigration of aliens, these professionals help maintain America’s defense posture by preventing entry of narcotics, weapons, criminals and terrorists.

Over the decades, the tools available to the U.S. Border Patrol have evolved. Today, agents use a variety of powerful electronic surveillance equipment like video cameras and drones to help detect unauthorized activity along the border. In addition to all-terrain vehicles, Border Patrol Agents also employ motorcycles, snowmobiles, motorcycles, high speed watercraft, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to perform their duties.

Immigration Policy, CBP, CBP

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