Border Patrol Agent vs Officer: What is the Difference?

Border patrol agents and border patrol officers sound like they would be the same. However, a border patrol agent and officer have two different jobs and both require their specialized training and requirements. Why would we need both border agents and border officers and does one have more responsibility or power than the other?

Although both border patrol agents and border patrol officers work closely together, a border patrol officer works along 8,000 miles of the coast and land borders of the United States. A border patrol officer works directly at one of 328 different ports of entry.

Border Patrol Agent vs Officer: What is the Difference?

Even though the overall goal of both a border patrol agent and a border patrol officer is to keep the country safe and prevent dangerous and illegal weapons, drugs, and people from entering the country the requirements, training, and job duties are different.

Oftentimes both border patrol agents and border patrol officers work closely together, and the easiest way to tell the two apart is border patrol agents wear green uniforms and border patrol officers wear blue uniforms.

There are more than 240,000 employees that work for The Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security is made up of eight branches:

  1. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  2. Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  3. Transportation Security Administration
  4. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  5. U.S. Coast Guard
  6. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  7. U.S. Secret Service
  8. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Border patrol agents and customs and border patrol officers both work under the U.S Customs and Border Protection branch. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is one of the largest branches of the Department of Homeland Security.

There are approximately 20,000 border patrol agents. This number has drastically increased since 2001 where there were only approximately 9,100 border patrol agents. The increase in several agents, as well as advances in technology, has helped increase safety and has prevented more illegal activity from entering the country.

Working at one of the 328 ports of entry there are approximately 28,000 border patrol officers in the United States.

Are Border Patrol Agents Police Officers?

Yes, a border patrol agent is a police officer and expected to do many of the same tasks such as perform traffic stops, patrol the area they are assigned, perform checkpoint checks, and transportation checks. A border patrol agent is additionally responsible for stopping drugs and weapons from being smuggled into the country, stopping terrorist and their weapons, detecting human trafficking, and preventing illegal immigrates from entering the United States.

A border patrol agent may also be assigned to survey international borders, respond to security sensor alarms, and perform line-watch duties.

Responsibilities of Border Patrol Officers

A border patrol officer is responsible for the detection and prevention of terrorist and their weapons, stopping the smuggling of drugs, making sure customs rules and regulations are being carried out, performing searches of people and packages before entering the country, and working with foreign agencies to make sure they are complying with the United States laws.

Border Patrol Agent vs Officer: What is the Difference?

Border patrol officers share many similar responsibilities as border patrol agents. The biggest difference between the two is their locations that they work. A border patrol officer works at one port of entry whereas a border patrol agent has a larger area to cover.

A border patrol officer may have less area to cover than a border patrol agent but, that does not make their job easier. A border patrol officer has the potential to see more people in a day as they see everyone who passes through that entry point.

Creative Transportation

Border patrol agents are expected to travel in harsh terrain frequently since much of the area they cover does not have roadways. Agents have the opportunity to receive additional training to be able to do horse patrol, bike patrol, work with a K-9 unit, boat patrol, and drive various off-road vehicles such as ATV or dirt bike patrol.

Horse patrol is unique to border patrol agents and is necessary since a large area of land that border patrol agents are responsible for is not accessible by cars or ATVs. Without this capability, there would be a lot of areas that would not be able to be protected.

Bike patrol and off-road vehicles are useful in areas where there are not roadways for cars but these vehicles can pass through.

Border patrol agents and border patrol officers use K-9 units to help detect drugs and weapons that are being smuggled illegally. K-9 units are also used in search and rescue, human remains detection, tracking, and special response patrol.

High Tech

Border patrol agents and officers use a wide range of technology to help them do their job safely and more effectively.

Border patrol officers use cargo scanners to scan trucks to look for suspicious items. They also use elemental isotope detectors which can detect heroin. Officers also use K-9 units to sniff out various other drugs being smuggled in.

Border patrol agents use a ground sensor that helps detect if someone is trying to illegally cross the border. Agents also use a variety of night-vision gear such as night-vision goggles and scopes to help see suspicious activity at night.

Aerostats, which are similar to blimps, drones, planes, helicopters, and satellites all help survey the ground below and are used to help detect any suspicious activity and let patrol agents know where to they need to go. These tools helpful given the terrain and large area border patrol agents are required to cover.

Border Patrol Agent vs Officer: What is the Difference?

A border patrol agent has a wide range of areas they are responsible for. However, with the help of extra technology and additional equipment, it makes covering for these large areas are easier. Even though border patrol officers have less area to cover they have the potential of seeing more people pass through the border so advances in technology have helped speed up traffic and catch more illegal activity trying to pass through the border.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

An immigration and customs enforcement officer or more commonly known as, ICE officer, is also similar to both a border patrol agent and a border patrol officer. However, instead of working on the border and points of entry into the country, they work throughout the United States. ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security and is under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement section (ICE).

There are five sections within ICE that an officer can work for which include:

  1. Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)
  2. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
  3. Management and Administration (M&A)
  4. Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA)
  5. Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR)

Department of Homeland Security and State and Local Law Enforcement

The Department of Homeland Security helps with funding to state and local law enforcement that work along the United States borders. The Department of Homeland Security does this to help reduce the number of border-related crimes in these areas.

ICE has created and expanded a program called Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST). This program brings the federal, local, state, and foreign law enforcement agencies together to help decrease crime and threats at the border. There are 12 BEST locations on the Southwest border and 31 throughout the United States.

Like ICE, The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch has created an additional program to help local, county, state, and federal law enforcement. This program is called Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR). This program focuses on helping detect and prevent terrorism, help aid in search and rescue, and help in cases of natural disasters.

Training Requirements for a border patrol agent

There is a nine-step application process to become a border patrol agent:

  1. Fill out an application.
  2. Pass a written exam
  3. The applicants’ qualifications are then reviewed
  4. Pass a background check
  5. Medical exam
  6. Fitness test
  7. Interview
  8. Pass a polygraph test
  9. Pass a drug test

Someone applying to be a border patrol agent must be under 40 years old, but exceptions are made for veterans.

The written test that is required includes logical reasoning questions and before starting on the job a border patrol agent they must pass a Spanish exam as well. It is not required to know Spanish before applying, however before a border patrol agent can work they must be able to know Spanish.

Once all nine of these steps are completed then a border patrol agent goes to specialized training. The training is a 58-day program and is located in Artesia, New Mexico.

Training Requirements for a Customs and Border Patrol Officer

Similar to a border patrol agent, a border patrol officer must pass a background check, drug test, polygraph test, and written test before they are selected to go to training. A border patrol officer must be younger than 40 years old to apply, but an exception can be made for veterans as well. The written test for a border patrol officer is different and focuses on logical reasoning questions as well as mathematics, grammar, and writing.

Learning Spanish for Border Patrol: What you must know

A border patrol officer goes to a specialized training called CBP Field Operations Academy (FOA). This is an 89-day program located in Georgia that includes classroom training, driver’s course, firearms training, tactical training, medical, and physical training.

The Department of Homeland Security has many branches and pieces that must work together to keep the United States safe. Although both border patrol agents and border patrol officers work closely together to keep America safe they each have their special skills and jobs. The requirements and the training for both are extensive to make sure our borders are safe.

Check out more on border patrol HERE.

Related Questions

1) Do you need any experience to work as either a border patrol officer or a border patrol agent?

No, but it does help. If someone does not law enforcement experience must have at least a year of college education in law or criminal justice.

2) Do border patrol agents or border patrol officers need a reason to search?

No, unlike state and local police officers a patrol agent or officer does not need probable cause to search. Anyone can be searched when entering the country for any reason.

3) How much do a border patrol agent and officer make?

According to the U.S Customs and Border Patrol website,, in 2021 a new border patrol agent makes approximately $49,508 to $78,269 a year. A new border patrol officer makes approximately $35,265 to $80,265 a year.

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.