Jobs in Border Patrol and Customs: Career Options and Requirements

Careers with border patrol and customs agencies give people a chance to protect America's borders from individuals or groups that have not been granted permission to enter. Since September 11, 2001, these positions have expanded in focus from addressing illegal immigration to include anti-terrorism efforts.

A career in border patrol and customs can involve becoming a border patrol agent, a border protection officer, or a deportation officer. Some of these careers are regional, with most border patrol agents working in states with immigration issues, such as Florida, Texas, New Mexico and California.

Essential Information

Professionals working with border patrol and customs agencies are responsible for securing the nation's borders and keeping track of potentially dangerous people and goods. Careers in the border patrol industry often involve preventing individuals from illegally entering the country, while customs officials are often tasked with interviewing and monitoring people as they enter and exit the country. An undergraduate degree in criminal justice provides students with an understanding of the legal system and is a good first step for those interested in a career in law enforcement, border patrol, and customs.

Career Options Border Patrol Agent, customs and border protection officer, deportation officer
Mean Salary (2015)* $54,460 (for all police and sheriff's patrol officers employed by the federal government)*
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 5%

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options in Border Patrol and Customs

Professionals in this field often endure a lengthy application process when applying for government jobs. Competition for these jobs is fierce, and candidates may be subjected to a physical assessment, polygraph test, and background check, in addition to an extensive interview process. Applicants may also be required to have training in the use of firearms and other weapons, and U.S. citizenship is a must, as it is for most government jobs.

Border Patrol Agent

Border patrol agents monitor all of America's borders, although most are concentrated in California, Florida, New Mexico, Texas, New York and Arizona. While the daily experience varies between states, the overall responsibility is the same: agents secure U.S. borders and prevent unauthorized entry by foreign nationals. In fact, border patrol agents are able to arrest anyone who violates immigration laws. Although most of an agent's time is spent in the field, they are also responsible for typing reports, submitting documentation and staying abreast of current immigration laws and policies.

Customs and Border Protection Officer

Customs and border protection (CBP) officers monitor the flow of trade and travelers into and out of the United States, while they work to prevent terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from entering the country. They can work at any of 300 ports of entry in the nation. CBP officers inspect cargo, passengers, merchandise, cars, trucks, airplanes and boats as they enter the country's borders.

Deportation Officer

Deportation officers identify, find and arrest individuals living in the United States illegally. They work with lawyers and other federal law enforcement officials to represent the government in cases involving illegal immigration. Deportation officers perform investigations, maintain surveillance, prepare reports and help apprehend suspects.

Immigration Enforcement Agent

Immigration enforcement agents work with other law enforcement officials to identify, arrest, charge and prosecute persons charged in illegal immigration cases. They find people who flee or who are in hiding and transport them to their country of citizenship.

Education Requirements for Careers in Border Patrol and Customs

For all of these positions, relevant work experience, a college degree or some combination of both is enough to qualify someone for consideration. Associate and bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice could help aspiring border patrol and custom agents meet this qualification. Programs are not typically offered specifically in border patrol, but some criminal justice programs may be affiliated with the U.S. Border Patrol or may place special emphasis on the field.

Because these jobs involve U.S. security and enforcing federal laws, all applicants must be U.S. citizens. Aspiring officers must also pass a physical examination. Applicants who are Spanish speakers are encouraged to apply.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, police and sheriff's patrol officers working for the federal government earned an annual average salary of $54,460, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the decade spanning 2014-2024, the BLS expected growth of 5% for police and sheriff's patrol workers, with jobs in federal agencies remaining very competitive.

A degree in criminal justice can be an ideal way to prepare for a career in border patrol and customs. Professionals in this field need to be aware of immigration and import laws and must be U.S. citizens. Most jobs involve patrolling the southern borders, and fluency in Spanish is useful.

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