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Customs and Border Protection Research Paper

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Updated: May 30th, 2019


The United States of America is the world’s largest economy and the only remaining super power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is the country that attracts the highest number of immigrants in the world, and the target market for various products from all over the world.

It is, therefore, important to manage the border to ensure that illegal immigration is curtailed. The goods and services leaving or coming into the country must also be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure that contraband goods such as drugs do not find their way into the country. The United States Customs and Border Protection was established in March 1, 2003 as an agency within the United States Department of Homeland Security to help in regulation and facilitation of international trade, collection of import duties, enforcement of policies and regulations at the ports, and managing customs and immigration issues.

With a workforce of about 45,600 federal agents, this body has been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that movement of goods and people into and out of the country follow the laid rules and regulations of the country.

Customs management and protection of the border is one of the most challenging tasks given the emerging technologies that makes it easy for criminals to conceal their identity and the content of the products they are transporting.

Issues about corruption have also compromised customs management and border protection. In this paper, the researcher seeks to critically analyze how the United States Customs and Border Protection unit works to protect our borders and manage customs, and the challenges it faces when undertaking its duties.

Research Study Questions

When conducting research, it is always important to develop clear research questions to help guide the process of collecting and analyzing data. The following are the research questions used in this paper.

  1. What is the primary role of United States Customs and Border Protection?
  2. What are some of the challenges that this body face when protecting our border and managing the customs?
  3. What are some of the measures that can be taken to improve its efficiency in service delivery?

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this research is to clearly explain the primary role of United States Customs and Border Protection, the challenges it faces when undertaking its functions, and measures that can be taken to improve efficiency in its operations. Customs management and border protection is one of the most challenging tasks because of the dangerous cartels who use sophisticated technology to conceal their identity and hide the contraband goods they import into the country.

Some of these criminals often use money to bribe their way into the country while others use force, blackmail, and other unconventional strategies to achieve their objectives. However, this agency must overcome these challenges and ensure that borders and entry points into the country are safely protected at all times.

Review of the Literature

Customs and Border Protection is an entity that was established in March 2003 to take over the roles of United States Customs service, Immigration Inspectorate, Agriculture Inspectorate, and Border Patrol Agents (Sherman, Jarreau, & Brew, 2009). The Department of Homeland Security realized that the best way of managing the borders and all the entry points into the country was to establish a single agency that will coordinate and manage all the activities in this department.

Shaw (2012) says that managing of the customs was one of the biggest responsibilities that were assigned to this new agency upon its creation in 2003.

The United States is the world’s leading market because of the purchasing power and number of its citizens. Most of the foreign firms always struggle to ensure that their products find their way into the country. It is the responsibility that all goods that come into the country meet the expectations set by the federal government. Processing goods at the sea and airports is a challenging and very tedious work.

According to Kaiser and Snyder (2012), the biggest challenge at the customs comes in the form of unscrupulous individuals who want to slip into the country contraband goods. Drug smuggling is the biggest menace that this department faces. Just like other consumer products, hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin have a huge market in the United States.

This department, working closely with the DEA, is expected to counter this illicit trade that threatens the future of American youths. Shaw (2012) says that the biggest problem in fighting drug trade is the amount of money these traders are always willing to use to find their way into the country.

Some are known to use military force if they find it challenging to corrupt their way into the country. The Customs and Border Protection agents working at the customs have complained about the sophistication that these criminals use to succeed in their trade.

According to Wilson and Donnan (2012), the best way of combating illegal trade is to have a close working relationship among all the agencies involved. The Customs and Border Protection should work with related agencies such as DEA, traffic police, and other law enforcement agencies to ensure that illegal importation of contraband goods is effectively combated.

The systems and tools that the officers use in this unit should be advanced to match or outdo the systems used by the drug traffickers and other unscrupulous traders who are shipping contraband goods into the country.

At the Immigration Department, this agency has an important role of monitoring the legality of the movement of people into and out of the country. The country is always strict to deny entry people who have been involve in economic, social, or political crimes in their home countries or when in the United States. Drug traffickers, war criminals, and people who get involve in economic sabotage are always denied entry into the country.

Then there are people who illegally immigrate into the country. Shaw (2012) says that illegal immigration is one of the biggest challenges that the immigration department has been facing over the last four decades. Mexican immigrants and people from other neighboring countries have been posing the biggest challenge to the immigration department. They take advantage of the fact that their country borders United States hence they sneak into the country whenever they have the opportunity (Sherman, Jarreau, & Brew, 2009).

The Immigration Department’s performance has been good, but the number of people illegally immigrating into the country is still high, a sign that something should be done to combat this vice. It has been confirmed that the highest number of illegal immigrants come to the country through the land borders where there is the list border patrols.

To improve service delivery of this department at the borders, it may be necessary to purchase helicopters that can be used by the officers to patrol the porous borders, especially those that are not under constant surveillance by border patrol officers (Wilson & Donnan, 2012). Working with the local sheriffs in these regions may also help in improve the success rates of fighting illegal immigration.

Customs and Border Protection also has a major role of ensuring that agricultural products that come to the country adhere to the set regulations. The United States has restrictions regarding the countries that can export their agricultural products to this market. To enforce this law, this enforcement agency has a special mandate of inspecting all the agricultural products coming into the country to determine their origin and their standards before they can be allowed into the local market.

The biggest challenge in enforcing agricultural produce laws is corruption. Some of the officers at the border are easily compromised, especially in cases where these products are coming from neighboring countries such as Mexico and Canada (Shaw, 2012). Traders in this illegal business have perfected the art of sneaking their products to the market without following the due process as set in the existing laws of the country.

The government can help Customs and Border Protection by tightening the laws on corruption. The penalties should be very stiff for those found engaging in corrupt dealings when on their official duty. Installation of cameras at sensitive areas at the identified spots may also help discourage the vice among the officers (Wilson & Donnan, 2012).

Research gaps

Issues relating to customs and border protection have attracted massive attention of scholars because they directly affect the economic, political, and social forces within the country. The discussion above shows the emphasis that researchers have placed in this field.

However, there is still a gap in explaining the role of the existing laws in boosting the work of Customs and Border Protection agents. For instance, the Fourth Amendment of country’s constitution illegalizes warrantless search of houses. This gives a leeway for the criminals to hide evidence whenever they suspect that security agents are looking for warrants to conduct searches in their houses or places of work.

Method and Research Strategy

When conducting a study, it is always important to come up with a clear research strategy that defines how the primary and secondary data were collected, the process used in analyzing them, and how the findings were presented (Gaines, 2011). In this study, the researcher used both primary and secondary data.

Secondary data were collected from books, journal articles, and other reliable online sources. Primary data was collected from a sample of respondents who are working at Customs and Border Protection. The independent variables were the forces affecting operations of this department such as corruption, use of advanced technology and force by the criminal traders, and limited legal systems to support the operations of this department. The dependent variable was the efficiency in the operations of Customs and Border Protection.

There were a number of limitations faced by the researcher when conducting this study. The limited time available for the study did not allow the researcher to interview numerous respondents across the country working for this agency.

It is a fact that the agents in different parts of the country face different challenges, but the researcher could not sample respondents from some parts of the country, especially those located at the remote borders. The researcher used qualitative analysis because of the desire to offer explanation about how and why the independent variables mentioned above had significant impact on the dependent variable.

Analysis of the collected data took the form of ethnographic case studies. Using the available case studies, the researcher was able to determine how the independent variables affect the dependent variable.

Analysis and Findings

The researcher collected data from the respondents to help explain how the Customs and Border Protection conduct their activities, the challenges the face while they are on duty, and measures that have been taken to counter these challenges. As mentioned in the section above, the analysis took the form of case studies. By looking at specific cases, it is possible to understand the facts about this research. The researcher will analyze these case studies.

Corruption at the United States’ Border

A report by Kaiser and Snyder (2012) in 2004 indicated that Customs and Border Protection officers and agents are increasingly getting involved in cases of corruption in their line of duty. The findings revealed that these officers have been compromised when they are on their official duties. Currently, there are over 153 cases which are being investigated of officials who received bribes to allow contraband goods to enter the country.

Cases of corruption are more common along the remote borders, especially the United States’ border with Mexico. From the information collected from this department, it was revealed that corruption is deeply rooted into the system and it affects both junior and senior officers. In fact, there is a clearly defined channel of how the corrupt money finds its way from the illegal traders or immigrants, to junior officers all the way to senior officials.

The systems which are in place to curb this vice in this department have failed in the past because of its sophistication. The junior officers, who are the ones responsible for inspecting the cargo and individuals entering the country often, receive instructions from their superior on how to handle specific cargo once it is at the port.

The senior officers receive the money directly from these wealthy criminals transporting contraband goods to the country. They then share this bribe with the specific officers who will be directly involved in the inspection of the containers. At the border, junior officers receive bribes from individual immigrants or traders and they are expected to send a portion of their ill-earned money to their superior. The system is so seamless that it is very challenging to realize that such events are going on within this agency.

Drug Cartels Takes Control of Border Areas

A report by the Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Mr. David Aguilar, in 2012 shows that the Mexican drug cartels have taken full control of a section of the border between the United States and Mexico. These cartels use violence to suppress both the American and Mexican authorities who try to intervene. These cartels traffic both drugs and humans from South American countries into the United States.

They have infiltrated the Mexican police system, making it difficult to effectively combat them. The report shows that these cartels use military force, coercion, and other crude means to ensure that they remain in control of these borderlines.

Attempts to have a coordinated military assault between the United States and Mexican forces have not been successful because they are always informed of the intended attack in time. Once they get the information, they make a tactical retreat. The trend has limited the ability of this agency to destroy the cartels (Singh, 2014).

Use of Advanced Crime Analytics and Special Mission Aircrafts

Customs and Border Protection has come up with Advanced Crime Analytic software to help in uncovering crucial leads in the fight against narcotics and smuggling of people into the country. This system identifies the links and helps to uncover the criminal gang network, their operations, and how they relate with officials within the country and in other foreign countries.

According to a report from this agency, this software has been of critical importance in combating drug cartels in Mexico, Columbia, and other neighboring nations who have been involved in this illegal trade. Once these links are obtained, the team would use special mission aircrafts to monitor activities of these cartels, making it easy to conduct very successful raids at their apartments or vehicles they use to transport their contraband goods.


The three case studies reveal that Customs and Border Protection agency is faced with a number of challenges as it tries to enforce laws regarding international trade and immigration. They are faced with complex environment where dangerous cartels have learnt how to find their way into and out of the country with minimal resistance. The case studies show that the biggest threat in fighting these cartels and illegal immigrants is corruption.

The corrupt system allows these traders to continue with their illegal business in total disregard of the existing laws. The sophisticated systems that these criminals use in terms of weaponry and automobiles have also complicated the work of this agency. However, data collected show that combating illegal immigration and trade in the United States is possible. The recent upgrade of the systems and the use of special aircrafts adopted by Customs and Border Protection are bearing fruits.

The only impediment that this agency will have to address is ethics and morality of the agents when they are on their official duty. They need to shun corruption and other unethical practices. Gaines (2011) says that with goodwill, commitment, teamwork, and use of modern technologies, Customs and Border Protection has the ability to protect the borders of this country effectively.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Customs and Border Protection is a very important agency within the Department of Homeland Security. This agency is responsible for facilitation of international trade, management of immigrations, collection of import duties, and enforcement of the United States laws and regulations regarding movement of goods and persons into and out of the United States. As shown in this paper, this agency has the responsibility of ensuring that contraband goods and people without proper authorization do not find their way into the country.

However, this agency has been facing a number of challenges since its establishment in March 2003. Cartels trafficking drugs and other contraband goods have become highly sophisticated in their trade.

These criminals use various means to smuggle goods and people into the country at various points. Bribery is one of the tools that they have been using for a very long time. Some of the corrupt officials of this agency have made it possible for these criminals to smuggle almost anything they want into and out of the country using the sea and airports.

In cases where they realize that they cannot succeed through bribery, they use military force to achieve their objectives. A section of the border between the United States and Mexico is controlled by these cartels. They kill, maim, torture, and coerce officers who they perceive to threaten their business. Customs and Border Protection has also faced the challenge of lack of good will from foreign agencies, especially the Mexican authorities when it comes to coordinating a united assault against illegal immigration and trade.

There is hope that this agency can overcome these challenges. Despite these challenges, this agency has succeeded in thwarting attempts of many unauthorized individuals to enter the United States.

They have also deterred illegal trade, and sometimes arrested some of the illegal traders at the customs unit and at the country’s porous border. The recent upgrade of the systems and equipment used by this unit, and renewed commitment among the agents promises to improve the services they offer. The following recommendations should be considered to help improve service delivery.

  • Customs and Border Protection unit should consider using special cameras at all the sensitive inspection areas where corruption is considered rampant to nab corrupt officials.
  • The agency should have stiff penalties for officials who are found to be corrupt in any way.
  • The agency should upgrade its systems and purchase new special vehicles and aircrafts to monitor and protect porous borders.
  • This agency should work very closely with related agencies such as the local sheriffs and CIA.


Gaines, A. (2011). Border patrol agent and careers in border protection. Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers.

Kaiser, M., & Snyder, F. (2012). Offshore wind energy cost modeling: Installation and decommissioning. London: Springer.

Shaw, Y. (2012). Immigration, assimilation, and border security. Lanham: Government Institutes.

Sherman, M., Jarreau, S., & Brew, J. (2009). U.S. customs: A practitioner’s guide to principles, processes, and procedures. Chicago: American Bar Association.

Singh, T. (2014). New Horizons in Tourism: Strange Experiences and Stranger Practices. Wallingford: CAB International.

Wilson, T., & Donnan, H. (2012). A Companion to Border Studies. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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