One of the most important activities for a United States Border Patrol Agent is "line watch". This involves the detection, prevention and apprehension of terrorists, illegal aliens and smugglers of both aliens and contraband at or near the land border by maintaining surveillance from a covert position, following up leads, responding to electronic sensor systems, aircraft sightings, and interpreting and following tracks, marks and other physical evidence. Some of the major activities are farm and ranch check, traffic check, traffic observation, city patrol, transportation check, administrative, intelligence, and anti-smuggling activities.
All agents complete a 13-week paid "Basic Academy" training at the U.S. Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. Training includes such topics as immigration and nationality laws, physical training (PT), weapons and marksmanship. For those needing Spanish language instruction, an additional 8 weeks may be required beyond the 65 days of Basic Academy training. Border Patrol Agents must be willing to work overtime and varying shifts under arduous conditions, and be proficient in the carry and use of firearms. They may also be sent on temporary assignments on short notice, or on permanent reassignments to any duty location. All new agents begin their careers along the Southwest border, where a working knowledge of Spanish is required.
AMO is the world's largest civilian aviation and maritime law enforcement organization. Its mission is to protect the American people and nation's critical infrastructure through the coordinated use of air and marine assets to detect, interdict and prevent acts of terrorism and the unlawful movement of people, illegal drugs, and other contraband toward or across the borders of the United States. Air and Marine Interdiction Agents are endowed with the authority to enforce Title 8 (Aliens and Nationality) and Title 19 (Customs) of the United States Code in addition to the general law enforcement powers bestowed upon federal law enforcement agents.
This specialized law enforcement capability allows AMO to make significant contributions to the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as to those of other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies. AMO is uniquely positioned to provide direct air and maritime support to multiple agencies and to ensure the success of border protection and law enforcement operations between ports of entry, within the maritime domain and within the nation's interior. To accomplish its mission, AMO employs over 1,200 Federal Agents at 70 locations, operating more than 260 aircraft of 26 different types, and approximately 300 maritime vessels. It is one of the major operational components within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with the Office of Field Operations (OFO) and the United States Border Patrol (USBP).
In July 2006, the Office of Personnel Management conducted a survey of federal employees in all 36 federal agencies on job satisfaction and how they felt their respective agency was headed. DHS (which includes CBP) was last or near to last in every category including
The low scores were attributed to major concerns about basic supervision, management and leadership within DHS. Based on the survey, the primary concerns are about promotion and pay increase based on merit, dealing with poor performance, rewarding creativity and innovation, and the inability of leadership to generate high levels of motivation in the workforce, recognition for doing a good job, lack of satisfaction with various component policies and procedures and lack of information about what is going on with the organization and complaints from the traveling public.
In June 2007, CBP Commissioner W. Ralph Basham announced to employees that the agency would be conducting 125 different focus groups in 12 different cities around the country to better understand their concerns as expressed in the Human Capital Survey. The agency is also going to give employees who are not a part of that focus group process an intranet virtual focus group where they can express their views and their concerns. The commissioner stated: "We are looking at this very seriously. We want to hear from the employees, we want to hear from these focus groups, we want to drill down on this survey." In 2011, more than four years after this statement was made, these focus groups have never been reported to have been held, nor have any plans been reported for them to be held in the future.
A November 2007 Government Accountability Office report showed that low staffing, training, and overwork is a large problem within CBP, and an average of 71 officers leave the service every two weeks.
CBP continued carrying out their mission during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. As of June 17, 2020, 544 federal employees tested positive for COVID-19 and 5 have died as a result of the virus.
In 2011, the United States Congress mandated that applicants to CBP jobs undergo polygraph testing. The agency polygraphs about 10,000 applicants annually. From the start of the polygraphing until August 16, 2013, over 200 confessions of wrongdoing had been made. Many of the applicants confessed that they had close associations with drug traffickers or that they were directly involved in smuggling of drugs and illegal immigrants. The agency accused ten applicants of using countermeasures. As part of the "Operation Lie Busters", the name of the crackdown on polygraph countermeasures, all ten were not selected for employment.
CBP Officers primary sidearm is the H&K P2000 double action LEM (Law Enforcement Modification) pistol in .40 S&W caliber. It can contain as many as 13 rounds of ammunition (12 in the magazine and one in the chamber). Like many other law enforcement agencies, the 12 gauge Remington Model 870 is the standard pump-action shotgun. The CBP issue Model 870 has been modified by Scattergun Technologies to CBP specifications including: a 14-inch barrel, a five-shot capacity magazine, a composite stock with pistol grip, and night sights with a tactical "ghost-ring" rear sight. CBP uses the 5.56x45 caliber Colt M4 Carbine (M4A1) as the standard long gun for CBP Officers assigned to its aviation and maritime interdiction units, the CBP Border Patrol, the CBP Special Response Teams.
In April 2019, CBP awarded Glock a contract to replace the P2000. A special version of the Glock known as G47 was produced for CBP, along with Glock G19 compact and Glock G26 subcompacts modified to CBP specifications. All will be chambered in 9mm caliber.
National Public Radio's Morning Edition reported that CBP radiation-detection equipment at ports is better at detecting kitty litter than dangerous weapons, and that U.S. borders are so porous that congressional investigators carrying simulated nuclear materials have walked across unchallenged.
In an article entitled "DHS Decision-Making: Competence or Character?", James Giermanski states that the fundamental problem within CBP is that the agency has weak and sometimes flawed management. He says that DHS and CBP suffer from "seriously flawed decision-making", citing the "door only" policy, radio frequency identification technology, and lack of focus on exports which contain bombs.
The agency's practice of performing internal document checks on buses and trains running entirely within U.S. territory has been called "coercive, unconstitutional, and tainted by racial profiling".
The United States Court of International Trade found that CBP improperly classified merchandise when it had untrained chemists testifying before the court. The court found that there were errors in the laboratory reports, that CBP destroyed the evidence, and the tests used by the chemist did not meet any Daubert standards.
During a federal court case for unlawful removal,[specify] CBP and United States Department of Justice attorneys cited the U.S. Supreme Court case of Garcetti v. Ceballos (04-473), which ruled that CBP employees do not have protection from retaliation by CBP managers under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The free speech protections of the First Amendment have long been used to shield whistleblowers from retaliation. In response to the Supreme Court decision of Garcetti v. Ceballos, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2007, and the Senate passed its version of the Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 274), which has significant bipartisan support.
In 2005, a merger of ICE and CBP was considered, following a review at the request Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, that found morale and operational issues with ICE and the overlapping responsibilities within the two agencies.
A 2018 report by the ACLU and University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic alleged that there was pervasive physical, verbal, sexual and psychological abuse of immigrant minors by DHS and CBP officials over the period 2009–2014. Customs and Border Protection denied the allegations.
In July 2019, after a report by ProPublica, the CBP initiated an investigation into "disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees". ProPublica reported that the three-year existence of the Facebook group called "I'm 10-15" (the code used by the Border Patrol for "aliens in custody"). The Facebook group, meant for current and former Border Patrol officials, had around 9,500 members. ProPublica published screenshots and quotes of group members mocking migrant deaths, questioning if a photo of drowned migrants was "edited" by liberals, and posting sexist and racist jokes on Latino congressmen, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She, in turn, described this as CBP's "violent culture". Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said that the "posts are completely inappropriate" and vowed to hold the employees responsible accountable. Provost herself was once a member of the group, having posted in it in November 2018.
In July 2020, the Trump administration dispatched federal officers to Portland, Oregon during protests in the city following the killing of George Floyd. Policing tactics such as the detainment of protesters in unmarked vans and the shooting of protester Donavan La Bella in the head with an impact round were linked to a deployment that included CBP BORTAC agents sent to the city against the wishes of state and local government. US Customs and Border Protection was named in the resulting suit filed by the Oregon Department of Justice, which accused CBP and other federal agencies of violating protesters' civil rights.