The Guardians of our Nation’s Borders: 5 Ways CBP Succeeds

by Joseph McKeown

When US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is in the news, unfortunately sometimes it isn't very favorable. From reports that CBP ignored hundreds of allegations of excessive force and misconduct to further allegations that they have denied immigrants credible fear interviews (used to establish asylum claims) to reports that CBP (along with its mother agency, the Department of Homeland Security) has high turnover and low employee morale, CBP's image in the press isn't always stellar.

Immigration attorneys, on occasion, also have difficult dealings with CBP, particularly when officers wrongly deny a client entry to the US or when they make mistakes processing the client into the US.  With all this, it's easy to overlook the important and vital work that CBP does with much success every day in protecting our borders.

First, some background on this agency: with more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world's largest law enforcement organizations. Its charge is "keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade."

While most people commonly identify CBP with the agency’s work on the US/Mexico border, or as the (okay, sometimes grumpy) person who checks their passport when they enter the US after an international trip (on a typical day CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors!), CBP's duties also include intercepting the flow of illicit drugs, felons and gang members, counterfeit goods, as well as inspecting the millions of pounds of commercial shipments of fresh fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, herbs, and other items that enter the US each year.

To celebrate the good work that CBP does, without ignoring the criticisms of the agency, we thought we'd take a look at five areas—from drugs to pests to felons—where CBP has been successful in protecting our borders.   

1. Drugs
On a typical day, CBP seizes over 10,000 pounds of illicit drugs, including cocaine in sauce containers and opium in soap bars—nice catches, CBP—to much larger catches including recently when CBP (along with the Coast Guard and Immigration Customs and Enforcement) seized 2,180 pounds of cocaine worth $29 million dollars and apprehended thirteen men following an at-sea interdiction of a delivery vessel and coastal freighter off Puerto Rico. Other smaller but still notable seizures include 125 pounds of liquid meth in a fuel tank and eighty-two pounds of cocaine and meth at the Port of Nogales.

CBP uses various methods and technology in the completion of their duties, and one is a P-3 Orion Long Range Tracker aircraft (the CBP’s tethered blimp also assists on drug busts) and this came in use when CBP personnel aboard the P-3 helped Panamanian authorities seize 1,300 pounds of cocaine valued at over $97 million.  

While all drugs are bad (that's right, kids) the drug commonly known as the "date rape" drug is especially evil, so it’s a good thing that CBP in Indianapolis seized a total of twenty-seven gallons of Gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL), an intoxicant used as a precursor of Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB). CBP explains: "When consumed, the human body converts GBL to GHB. Popularized in recent years as a recreational drug among young adults at dance clubs, GBL has also been used to render a victim incapable of resisting advances, which is why it is commonly referred to as a ‘date-rape’ drug."

We don't need that in America (or anywhere else). Thanks, CBP!

2. Felons and Gang Members    
To avoid law enforcement detection and arrest, wanted felons, gang members, and individuals with criminal histories often attempt to cross the border without documentation. Thankfully, CBP is there to arrest these individuals, such as recently when agents from the Rio Grande Valley Sector arrested four sex offenders, three Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and one 18th Street gang members. CBP often makes individual arrests as well, such as that of a convicted sex offender with an extensive criminal history and a foreign national who tried to enter via the Mexico border, who was revealed to be an active member of the “Sureño” criminal street gang as well as an aggravated felon.

The list goes on. CBP in Tucson, Arizona arrested seven individuals with serious criminal histories, including homicide, voluntary manslaughter, robbery, and rape of a child, as well as two MS-13 gang members from Guatemala and Mexico, and six individuals wanted for or convicted of various sex crimes.

We can all agree the US is safer without these individuals, and we have CBP to thank for that.

3. Harmful Insects and Pests
Using specialized x-ray machines that detect organic materials, visual inspections, and agricultural canines (who are no doubt adorable), CBP agriculture specialists intercept tens of thousands of “actionable pests” each year. These pests, CBP says, “could seriously threaten U.S. agriculture, our natural resources and our economy."

Asian Gypsy Moths are one such pest. Native to such countries as Russia, China, and Japan, Asian Gypsy Moths have incredible appetites and will feed on over five hundred tree and shrub species. If introduced into the US, these insects could have a devastating effect—since, you know, we like our trees and shrubs.

When these little guys tried to enter the US in the beautiful port of Honolulu (who can blame them for trying?), CBP agriculture specialists there intercepted them and found eleven egg masses on a ship from Taiwan. CBP reports: "Each of these masses can contain hundreds of eggs of this devastating plant pest. The interception marks the first time the destructive pest’s eggs have been discovered in the islands."

CBP has also stopped a destructive snail in Buffalo trying to enter on a maritime container from China. Admittedly not quite as big a seizure as the one in Los Angeles, this capture was nevertheless important and the first of its kind in Buffalo.

The Khapra Beetle is arguable the world’s most destructive pest of grain products and seeds (it's proud of this achievement too, that's how dangerous they are). This beetle’s attempt to enter the US was stopped by CBP Agriculture Detector Dog "Regal," who sniffed out the offending creature in a passenger’s luggage from the Sudan, and, we hope, gave a cute little yip.

Stephen Kremer, Area Port Director for Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta, where the beetle was found, says: '''Our best defense against destructive pests is to prevent their entry into the United States. The cost to American taxpayers to eradicate a pest or disease once it becomes established in the U.S. can reach millions of dollars[.]'”

I hope he gave Regal a treat.

4. Counterfeits
Recently, CBP in Dallas, Texas seized 220 clothing items including Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger products with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of just over $22,000 that were found in a passenger’s six checked bags. In a much bigger haul, CBP in Savannah, Georgia seized 198 counterfeit Hermès Birkin handbags with an estimated sale value of nearly $2 million, their third multi-million dollar bust of last year.

While fake bags, pirated DVDs and CDs, and counterfeit iPhones are bad enough, counterfeit toys pose a unique threat. Not only do counterfeit goods negatively affect American businesses, they are potentially dangerous as they may use unsafe materials in their construction. Which is why it’s good that CBP officers in Dallas (way to go again, people!) seized 200 Rainbow Loom® Monster Tail™ kits, which were manufactured in China and en route to Bolivia. Counterfeit toys can contain harmful substances including lead and phthalates and CBP says this seizure was “’indicative of the level of attention CBP officers are paying to protect consumers from harmful counterfeit products[.]’”

CBP officers and import specialists at the Port of Baltimore also got in on the action, having seized over 156,000 hazardous toys that contained lead and regulated phthalates in excess of the limit which may be harmful to the health and safety of children. Not cool. Thanks, CBP!

5. Babies, Squirrels, and Cars
Okay, so this category is not about CBP keeping out babies, squirrels, and cars from the US, but rather concerning other tasks that CBP performs. In addition to protecting our borders from drugs, felons, pests, and counterfeits, CBP also makes life-saving rescues and, oh yeah, why not, delivers babies. CBP also recently rescued an adorable hitchhiking baby squirrel from Costa Rica! 

In addition, as part of their operations, CBP also recovers stolen property—even if it was stolen decades ago. Such is the case with a classic Jaguar stolen more than forty-five years ago in New York. It was seized last year in a joint operation at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex. The car will be returned to its owner, who now lives in Florida, and who said: '"This is just a miracle, a miracle. I was 36 years old then and now I’m 82. It was my first good car and favorite.  It’s a wonderful car. I used to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning on either Saturday or Sunday and drive it 90 to 100 (mph) on the highway in New York...I’m going to restore it.  And, if anyone asks, I’ll tell them I’m very proud of my government.'"

Let's see what he says when the government takes away his driver's license for speeding. But no matter, great work CBP!