In 2003, the U.S. Customs Service was dismantled and reformed as a new component operating under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security. Now officially part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, customs agents’ titles were changed to that of a CBP Officer or CBPO.
Together with the border patrol and other official offices, the CBP makes up the largest law enforcement agency in the United States. CBP Officers operate underneath the CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO), and they are charged with screening the millions of people, passenger vehicles and commercial freight vehicles that attempt to cross the U.S. border or import goods on a daily basis. Their efforts ensure the security of the United States borders while enforcing trade regulations and general entry restrictions.
What Does a Customs Agent Do?
The primary mission of the CBP Officer is to screen returning Americans and foreign nationals entering the country. Counter-terrorism is a main priority, with the goal of identifying suspicious persons or goods and preventing them from further entering the United States. CBP Officers have the authority to conduct searches, seize goods or objects, bear firearms, make arrests and serve out orders or warrants. Drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, illegal good trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, child pornography, and other banned items are interdicted through scans, random searches and targeted investigations. CBP Officers also ensure that relevant duties, taxes, and tariffs are paid at the time of entry.
Intercepting Criminal Activity
Individuals with suspicious persons or goods may be detained and questioned in an effort to intercept criminal activities. Individuals attempting to enter the country illegally or without the proper processing papers are deferred at the border. Inspections are carried out on commercial and passenger vehicles to enforce trade laws while protecting the security of U.S. borders.
The OFO and the CBP, in general, maintain the world’s largest contingency of law enforcement canine teams as well. With over 1,200 OFO canine teams in operation, individuals who wish to work with specially-trained detector dogs can become CBP Canine Officers.
Where Does a Customs Agent Work?
CBP Officers are stationed primarily at the 328 ports of entry into the United States. They may also work at one of the 20 major field offices located throughout the country, typically during high-traffic ports of entry such as Southern Texas, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and others. Additionally, 15 pre-clearance stations exist in Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean as well as 55 other OFO field office locations in 37 different countries.
Many CBP Officers, especially newly trained ones, are stationed along the U.S. southwest border shared with Mexico. Others may be stationed in maritime ports or major international airports, screening either passenger or cargo vehicles. Still others may be sent to locations along the U.S. northern border or elsewhere, including the pre-clearance stations located abroad.
Customs Agent Salaries & Job Outlook
New CBP Officers starting pay corresponds to either the GS-5 or GS-7 pay level depending on applicants’ education and professional experience. These annual salaries correspond to $28,262 and $35,009, respectively. Individuals may also be eligible for locality pay, hazard pay and other bonuses or stipends in addition to benefits.
Additional Careers in Law Enforcement
Consider these additional careers in law enforcement.
Crime Scene Investigator