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What Are the Work Activities of a Border Patrol Agent?

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Since 1924, border patrol agents have braved cold northern winters and hot desert summers in order to ensure the nation's borders are secure. Though the role of a border agent has changed through the years, particularly after 9/11, the essential duties remain the same. A border patrol agent is tasked with preventing the entry of illegal aliens, drugs and contraband into the United States.

The Job of Border Patrol

Border Patrol agents are essential for the security of U.S. borders. Originally, the primary mission of the Border Patrol was the prevention of smuggling and illegal immigration. After 9/11, the agency also began to focus on preventing terrorist attacks by apprehending suspected terrorists and intercepting shipments of weapons meant for terrorist groups. Border Patrol agents staff checkpoints at border crossings and conduct vehicle searches and identification checks. They conduct patrols, often in remote areas, and maintain surveillance of crossings commonly used for illegal entry. Border Patrol agents may investigate reports of undocumented workers on ranches or farms, patrol in cities or follow a suspicious trail. When necessary, they detain illegal aliens for deportation. Border patrol working conditions vary, depending on an agent's assignment.

Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue Unit

After two years as a Border Patrol agent, it is possible to apply for the Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue unit, or BORSTAR. The Border Patrol created the unit in 1998 to combat the increased deaths of migrants along the border, but BORSTAR agents may also assist U.S citizens or others who encounter difficulties in the region. Work activities can include hiking into a remote area or rappelling into a remote canyon. They must often navigate to a location. Rescue operations may include plucking victims from fast-moving rivers. Victims are sometimes ill or injured, and it is up to BORSTAR agents to administer first aid, apply splints or arrange helicopter extractions. In addition to these specialized duties, BORSTAR team members also conduct their normal duties as law enforcement officers.

Border Patrol Tactical Unit

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's tactical unit, called BORTAC, responds to high-risk and emergency incidents that require special tactics and skills. BORTAC trains and operates in foreign countries as well as the United States, which makes it unique among federal law enforcement agencies. BORTAC team members may gather intelligence gathering or conduct surveillance or reconnaissance. A few specially trained agents may fulfill the role of border patrol sniper. Border Patrol agents assigned to BORTAC may train foreign counterparts, quell riots at detention facilities or serve high-risk warrants.

Entry Qualifications

Applicants must be younger than 40 years old unless they have experience as a federal law enforcement officer or are eligible for veterans' preference. They must be U.S. citizens, have a valid driver's license and be proficient in Spanish or capable of learning Spanish. All applicants are subjected to a background and credit check, and past arrests, financial problems, poor work history or a history of drug or alcohol abuse can lead to rejection.

Salary and Promotions

As federal employees, agents receive salaries based on the general schedule for law enforcement officers (LEO). Initially, agents start at pay grades 5, 7 or 9, depending on education and experience. Starting pay for a GL-5 was $52,583, as of December 2017. With supervisor approval, border patrol agents are eligible for yearly promotions to the next grade level. Agents promoted to GL-9 by December 2019 will earn $70,784 per year.