What Are the Work Activities of a Border Patrol Agent?

by Jeffrey Joyner

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. Border Patrol agents are federal law enforcement officers tasked with preventing the entry of illegal aliens, drugs and contraband into the United States. CBP also has two different teams that conduct special operations. Work activities depend on assignment, but certain tasks are common.

Typical Border Patrol Agents

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 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 be snipers or conduct intelligence gathering, surveillance or reconnaissance. Border Patrol agents assigned to BORTAC may train foreign counterparts, quell riots at detention facilities or serve high-risk warrants.


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.


As federal employees, agents receive salaries based on the general schedule for law enforcement officers. Initially, agents start at pay grades 5, 7 or 9, depending on education and experience. Starting pay for a GL-5 was $33,829, as of 2013, and it was $38,511 for a GL-7 and $42,948 for a GL-9. Locality pay increased these numbers by 14.16 to 35.15 percent, depending on the geographic location of the agent's assignment. Overtime was mandatory, adding as much as 25 percent to agents' pay.

About the Author

Jeffrey Joyner has had numerous articles published on the Internet covering a wide range of topics. He studied electrical engineering after a tour of duty in the military, then became a freelance computer programmer for several years before settling on a career as a writer.

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