Saturday, May 28 marks the 92nd anniversary of the United States Border Patrol. Its motto, “Honor First,” is short and to the point, but its brevity belies the daunting complexity and gravity of its mission.
Border Patrol agents secure more than 5,000 miles of border with Canada and nearly 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, and our maritime border includes 2,000 miles of shoreline surrounding the Florida peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico. They work in all kinds of harsh conditions: intense heat, bitter cold, rugged terrain, long stretches of isolated highways, along beaches and lake shores, and on desolate back-roads. They patrol on foot, on horseback, on all-terrain vehicles, in cars, boats, helicopters and planes.
When Congress authorized the Border Patrol in 1924, our world was very different. The Border Patrol was different, too. Agents initially didn’t wear uniforms; each one was issued only a badge and a revolver, and recruits often had to supply their own horses (although the government did supply the oats and hay).
In Fiscal Year 1925, agents apprehended about 22,200 individuals who had entered the United States unlawfully. That number peaked in 2001 at 1.2 million, and in FY 2015 it stood at 337,000. Because of Prohibition, the major smuggling activity in 1924 involved liquor instead of drugs.
Today, the U.S. Border Patrol has more than 20,000 agents and 2,000 mission support personnel. They use technology – such as mobile video surveillance systems, thermal imaging, ground sensors, and a system of integrated fixed towers – to detect and disrupt illegal cross-border activities. Agents intercept narcotics, prevent the entry of inadmissible people, rescue lost hikers and abandoned migrants – many of them children – and help apprehend fugitives from justice.
The U.S. Border Patrol is also a close-knit family. Last month, we mourned the loss of Agent Jose “Joey” Barraza, a canine handler killed in the line of duty as a result of a vehicle accident near Sierra Blanca, Texas. Many of his fellow agents rushed to the scene and knelt in prayer while the emergency medical technicians tried to save Agent Barraza. Their silent vigil reflected an unbreakable bond shared by the dedicated men and women who bravely don the green uniform each day. Agent Barraza’s tragic death brings the number of Border Patrol agents lost in the line of duty to 119.
On this 92nd anniversary of the U.S. Border Patrol, I want to commend our agents and our mission support personnel for their steadfast courage and commitment to the safety and security of our nation. They personify "Honor First."