Agency Spotlight–History of the Customs and Border Protection

Mar 3, 2017

customsU.S. Customs Service

The U.S. Customs Service can trace its’ original function to July 31, 1789, when President George Washington signed the Tariff of 1789. He was responding to an urgent need of revenue following the Revolutionary War. It authorized the collection of duties on imports. One month later, the 5th Act of Congress established the U.S. Customs Service and its ports of entry. Under Section 596 of the Tariff Act, the CBP is required to seize and forfeit all merchandise that is stolen, smuggled, or illegally imported or introduced.

Section 592 of the Tariff Act of 1930 is the most used customs penalty provision for the importation of goods. Infractions from this section are divided into three categories of culpability, each with a different maximum penalty:

  • Fraud—An act or omission done intentionally to defraud the U.S. Department of Revenue.
  • Gross Negligence—Act or omission with actual knowledge of, or disregard for, the relevant facts.
  • Negligence—Involving a failure to exercise due care in ascertaining the material facts.

For nearly 125 years, the U.S. Customs Service was the primary source of governmental funds, which helped pay for the nation’s early growth and infrastructure. However, in March 2003, the Customs Service was dissolved to form part of the Department of Homeland Security as the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)

Shortly after the Civil War, some states began passing their own immigration laws. This prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that immigration was a federal responsibility. The Immigration Act of 1891 established an Office of the Superintendent of Immigration within the U.S. Department of Treasury. These people were responsible for admitting, rejecting, and processing all immigrants seeking admission to the U.S. and for implementing national immigration policy.

Immigration Inspectors were stationed at major U.S. ports of entry collecting manifests of arriving passengers. In the early 20th century, Congress’s primary interest in immigration was protecting American workers and wages. This made immigration more of a matter of commerce than revenue. Therefore, in 1903, Congress transferred the Bureau of Immigration to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor.

After World War I, Congress tried to curb the flow of immigrants by passing laws in 1921 and 1924 and assigning a quota to each nationality based on previous U.S. Census figures.

Then, in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the INS from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice in 1940.

2003 to Present

On March 1, 2003, the CBP became the nation’s first comprehensive border security agency with a focus on maintaining the integrity of our boundaries and ports of entry. Before the CBP, multiple organizations conducted security, compliance, and facilitation of international travel and trade. The consolidation of these roles and responsibilities allowed the CBP to develop seamless security procedures while ensuring compliance with our nations’ immigration, health, and international trade laws and regulations.

On January 17, 2006, the CBP developed an air and marine monitoring capability with the formation of its 3rd uniformed division, the Office of Air and Marine.

In 2007, the U.S. Border Patrol joined the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) and Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit (BORSTAR) to form the U.S. Border Patrols Special Operations Group (GOP).

4 Major Groups

Container Security Initiative (CSI)—The CBP works together with other nations to identify and pre-screen containers that pose a risk at foreign ports of departure before loaded and shipped to the U.S.

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)—They work with more than 7,600 companies including U.S. importers, customs brokers, terminal operators, carriers, and foreign manufacturers.

Securing America’s Borders at Ports of Entry (POE)—Protect POE’s by deterring potential threats and unauthorized people and goods. They also collect any taxes, duties, and fees. Every year, the CBP processes nearly 500 million people, 130 million cars and trucks, and 20 million cargo containers.

National Border Patrol Strategy—Their main goal is to have operational control of the borders of the U.S. This is especially true with the land borders of Canada and Mexico. They have collaborated with other law enforcement agencies such as U.S. Coast Guard/National Service, ICE, FBI, and the DEA.

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