Despite often portrayed as a hard-nosed, paramilitary organization, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) mission has evolved from simply being an enforcement agency to an agency that has a humanitarian focus. This is a transition that has been overlooked by mainstream media and critics of the organization.
Originally created in 2003 to maintain and manage U.S. borders, CBP has played a crucial role in protecting the country from international threats ranging from narcotics, disease, and dangerous criminals. On a given day, its 60,000 employees will screen nearly 70,000 cargo containers, arrest more than 1,100 individuals, and seize nearly six tons of illicit drugs, but ultimately this still does not give a comprehensive image of the agency.
In the last few decades, CBP has strived to improve its humanitarian mission by helping migrants who are deprived of food, water, and face dangerous environments that consist of human traffickers, cartel members, and hostile terrain.
One of the principal units that assists with this mission is the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR) Unit, which was created in 1998 (under the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service) and boasts one of the highest trained and specialized search and rescue groups the country has to offer. From expertise in tactical medicine to swift water rescue training, BORSTAR originally intended to help Border Patrol agents who were in remote areas that were injured. However, as years have gone by, the unit’s focus has shifted more to aiding migrants who face similar hazardous situations.
In fact, according to Border Patrol Special Operations Group Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Jesse Munoz, about 90 percent of the individuals they rescue have crossed the border illegally into America. In fiscal year 2016, BORSTAR made nearly 4,000 of these rescues along the southern border, revealing that its primary goal is to protect human lives and safety.
BORSTAR is just one of many initiatives developed by CBP in recent years that expands its humanitarian mission. The agency has also created the Missing Migrant Program, (MMP), which aims to improve rescue methods for migrants traveling by foot in remote areas along the southern border. The program has placed large signs on tall structures such as windmills and cell towers to help navigate migrants to safe areas should they be lost and require medical attention. This also includes 85 rescue beacons that are spread along the border, where migrants can push a simple button and receive immediate assistance from CBP.
While personnel and physical infrastructure have vastly improved migrant safety along the border, CBP has also aimed to prevent migrants from taking on the dangerous treks across the desert by holding public education events through its Border Safety Initiative (BSI). Since 1998, this strategy educates migrants, media, and border agents about the dangers of crossing the border between ports of entry.
As our migration crisis continues to worsen with hundreds of thousands from Central and South America fleeing poverty,and gang violence, it remains imperative that the public gets a full picture of CBP’s activities. It must be seen as not only as a law enforcement organization that secures and protects our borders, but also as an organization that seeks to preserve human lives no matter where a person is migrating from.