A History of the United States Border Patrol

US Border Patrol

A History of the United States Border Patrol


Taken from the United States Border Patrol Museum


On May 28, 1924, Congress passed the Labor Appropriations Act of 1924, officially establishing the United States Border Patrol with appropriations for 450 Patrol Inspectors. Their purpose was to secure the borders between inspection stations.

The government initially provided the inspectors with a badge and a revolver. Recruits furnished their own horse and saddle. Washington provided oats and hay for the horse and an annual salary of $1680 for the inspectors. The new agency did not begin to issue uniforms to its agents until December of 1924.

In 1925, the duties of the Border Patrol were expanded to patrol the seacoast. During this time it reached the desired manpower of 450 Patrol Inspectors. Many of the early inspectors were recruited from organizations such as the Texas Rangers, local sheriff deputies, and appointees from the Civil Service Register of Railroad Mail Clerks.


In 1932, The Border Patrol was placed under the authority of two directors, one in charge of the Mexican border office in El Paso, Texas, and the other in charge of the Canadian border office in Detroit, Michigan. The majority of the Border Patrol at this time was assigned to the Canadian Border. Liquor smuggling was a major concern because it too often accompanied alien smuggling. The prohibition era was the most violent in the history of the Border Patrol. Although horses remained the transportation of choice for many years, especially along the southern border, by 1935, the Border Patrol began using motorized vehicles with radios. Today the Border Patrol fleet includes sedans, vans, sport utility vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, bikes, planes, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt consolidated the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization into the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1933. The first Border Patrol Academy opened as a training school at Camp Chigas, El Paso, Texas, in 1934. Thirty-four trainees attended classes in marksmanship, horsemanship, and Morse code. The workload and accomplishments of the Patrol remained constant until 1940, when the Immigration Service was moved from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice. An additional 712 Patrol Inspectors and 57 auxiliary personnel brought the Patrol to approximately 1,531 officers. During World War II, the Border Patrol manned alien detention camps, guarded diplomats, and assisted the U.S. Coast Guard in searching for Axis saboteurs. Aircraft became an essential part of Border Patrol operations during this time.


In 1952, Border Patrol Agents were first permitted to board and search a conveyance for illegal aliens anywhere in the United States. For the first time, illegal aliens traveling within the United States were subject to arrest. Patrol Inspectors were allowed to patrol all territory within 25 miles of a land border. Illegal aliens began entering the United States on private aircraft in the late 1950s, and the Border Patrol began tracking suspect flights. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s, the first aircraft hijacking attempts occurred and President John F. Kennedy ordered the Border Patrol to accompany domestic flights to prevent takeovers.


The 70's brought change to the Border Patrol. In 1970, the Patrol Inspector title was changed to Patrol Agent and in 1975 the first female agents were hired along with an increase in minority hiring. The 1980s and 1990s saw a tremendous increase of illegal migration to the United States. The Border Patrol responded with increases in manpower and the implementation of modern technology. Infrared night-vision scopes, seismic sensors, and a modern computer processing system helped the Patrol locate, apprehend and process those crossing into the United States illegally.


In an effort to increase the level of control on border, El Paso sector established Operation 'Hold the Line' in 1993, and it proved to be an immediate success. Agents and technology were concentrated in specific areas, providing a ‘show of force’ to deter illegal border crossers.

 The drastic reduction in apprehensions prompted the Border Patrol to undertake a full scale effort in San Diego, California, which accounted for more than half of illegal entries. Operation ‘Gatekeeper’ was implemented in 1994, and reduced illegal entries by more than 75 percent over the next few years. A defined strategic plan was introduced alongside Operation ‘Gatekeeper’ that laid out the course of action for the Border Patrol into the future. With illegal entries at a more manageable level, the Patrol was able to concentrate on other areas, such as the establishment of Anti-Smuggling Units, and search and rescue units such as BORSTAR. The Border Safety Initiative was created in 1998 with a commitment by the Border Patrol, and the guaranteed cooperation of the Mexican Government.


Homeland Security became a primary concern of the nation after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On March 1st, 2003, the Border Patrol along with four other Federal entities merged into Customs and Border Protection, under the Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. Border Patrol continues its efforts to control our nation’s borders. The 21st century promises to provide enormous leaps in technology that can be applied to border enforcement. The modernization of the Patrol advances at an astounding rate as new generations of agents develop innovative ways to integrate the contemporary technology into field operations. New specialized technology is being created within the Border Patrol that holds increasing potential to assist agents in fulfilling the mission of the Patrol. Additional cooperation with neighboring countries increases border safety and law enforcement efforts.

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