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#USImmigrationLaw: 5 Facts to Know About U.S. Border Patrol

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has the unenviable task of patrolling over 7,500 miles of territory between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It is responsible for everything from monitoring import and export of goods, to preventing drug smuggling. The agency also has an enormous role in enforcing immigration laws.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates more than 500 million people cross American borders every year, each one coming in contact with border patrol in some fashion. So here are five things you need to know about U.S. Border Patrol.

1. You May Need Documents

Everyone needs a passport if you're entering the U.S. by air, and you need at least some documentation -- a driver's license, green card, or NEXUS card -- to cross the border by land or sea. Canadian citizens can present a single WHTI-compliant document in lieu of a passport, and Mexican citizens can present a passport with a nonimmigrant visa or laser visa border crossing card.

2. They May Not Need a Warrant

Under federal law and Supreme Court precedent, Border Patrol officials can operate checkpoints and question occupants of vehicles about their citizenship, request document proof of immigration status, and make plain view searches of the interior of the vehicle, all without a warrant. But officials can't search an entire car or person without a warrant or probable cause.

3. They Take Care of Business

Literally. The Border Patrol is also in charge of policing economic trade between the United States and foreign countries. This means monitoring imports and exports and enforcing international customs laws.

4. They Can Open Fire

Between January 2010 to October 2012, Border Patrol officers were involved in 67 cases of use of deadly force and these cases are rarely investigated by outside agencies or punished. Even the case of Lonny Swartz, who was charged for shooting and killing 16-year-old Mexican Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in 2012 for throwing rocks at the border has yet to go to trial.

5. They're Everywhere

At almost 50,000 sworn agents and officers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the largest law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP can also impose civil penalties under the Tariff Act of 1930 and criminal penalties for drug and immigration offenses.

If you have more questions about the Border Patrol or have been charged by CBP of an immigration violation, you should talk to an experienced immigration attorney.

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