Formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security, of which U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a part, celebrated its 15th anniversary today at a ceremony in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
The event marked the beginning of DHS and also the integration of organizations that made CBP the nation’s unified border security agency, with a priority toward denying terrorists and their weapons from entering the United States.
“It is an honor to be with you today on behalf of the President of the United States to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the United States Department of Homeland Security - 15 years of making America safe,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who singled out CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at one point for recognition. “You enforce our nation’s immigration laws, secure our borders and ports of entry to prevent terrorists, drug dealers and violent criminals from entering our country and threatening our people.”
Vice President Pence reiterated the Trump Administration’s commitment to those who protect the country: “We will always stand with those of you who stand on the frontlines to protect our nation and our security.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen led a discussion with former secretaries John Kelly, who now serves as the White House Chief of Staff, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. The talk focused on some of the history of the formation of the department, as well as its evolution to face a changing world.
“What’s challenging is to keep up with the threat, and it changes every day,” Secretary Nielsen said during the panel session. “We need to just keep working with our partners to make sure we stay ahead.”
General Kelly said the best testament to how well the people of DHS have done their jobs is how safe America has been for the last decade and a half. He also stressed how the rise of threats, such as ISIS, highlights how important security at America’s borders is. According to Secretary Nielsen, an average of seven known or suspected terrorists apprehended at the borders every day.
“They are coming,” he said. “And they still have that one particular lust in life, and that is to come here and do as much damage as they can.”
Ridge and Chertoff remembered where they were during the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and how a lack of another attack the magnitude of those in 2001 speaks volumes of the people and work done.
“The [DHS] workforce is a group of highly dedicated, highly motivated people,” Ridge said. Chertoff added how the highlight of his tenure as secretary was the time he spent with those working the frontlines. “It was really great getting out with all the folks who are actually doing the work,” Chertoff said.
The event also featured testimonials from DHS employees who have been with the agency through the past 15 years, including CBP’s own Patrick Orender, an assistant port director at Dulles International Airport, who served in the U.S. Customs Service before the transition 15 years ago. In 2001, he was working as a Customs inspector in New York.
“My motivation is remembering the past to ensure that going forward, our mission will not be forgotten,” he said, adding it is DHS teamwork that keeps them all united in purpose. “All of us who work at DHS come together every day and protect our homeland.”
CBP traces its roots all the way back to 1789, as the U.S. Customs Service was the progenitor of numerous federal bureaus and agencies. Immigration inspectors, a function performed by CBP officers today, were established in the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration March 3, 1891. The Plant Quarantine Act of 1912 created agriculture inspectors, while U.S. Border Patrol agents began maintaining the integrity of the U.S. borders in 1924. The formation of DHS brought all these functions under one umbrella with the formation of CBP in 2003. Three years later, the Office of Air and Marine – now Air and Marine Operations – joined the operational components charged with keeping America safe.
Today, 60,000 men and women serve at CBP – one quarter of the DHS workforce of 240,000. Each day, CBP processes more than 1 million passengers and pedestrians and $6.5 billion worth of imported goods arriving into the U.S., while collecting approximately $120.5 million in duties, taxes, and other fees. Every day, CBP officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents serve on the frontline to stop the flow of illicit drugs into the country, seizing on average 5,863 pounds of narcotics and disrupting another 222 pounds of drugs. They also stop $3.3 million worth of products with Intellectual Property Rights violations and $265,205 in undeclared or illicit currency daily.
For more on CBP’s history, click here.