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Pathway to Becoming a Border Patrol Agent

In the United States, there are about 6,000 miles of borders with neighboring Mexico and Canada. In order to become a U.S. border patrol agent, one must be willing to live and work in near one of these borders and should also have a desire to keep the country and its borders safe.

After people decide that this might be the right job for them, the next step is to determine which pathway to employment is best for their situation. There are a number of different border patrol agent degrees and careers to choose from, so it is important to choose the right option before starting.

Understanding the Main Objectives of the Job

The work of a patrol agent is more than just preventing illegal immigration, although that is one of the most important responsibilities. In addition to this task, the goals of an agent also include keeping the US safe from things like illegal drugs and weapons.

These goals are accomplished as the agent follows the thorough protocol for the job set in place by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency. Doing this ensures that people and vehicles arriving at the border are legally authorized to enter the United States. It is also the responsibility of the agent to perform searches of vehicles and people. This helps prevent the hiding or smuggling of illegal objects, items or individuals. Agents will also perform any necessary arrests and transports, and will be responsible for filling out reports and other paperwork as necessary.

Due to the nature of the job, duties may change from day to day in order to promote efficiency. Because of the different terrains along the border, an agent may spend a lot of time on foot, on a bicycle or in some type of vehicle.

Requirements for Employment

There are a number of different types of jobs for border patrol agents, and each one has its own set of guidelines for employment. In order to understand the requirements, it is important to explain the levels of hiring used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The levels help determine salary maximums and minimums as well as promotion potential.

  • GL-5: This is the lowest level of qualification, and anyone with a Bachelor’s degree in any field may qualify. Consideration is also given to those who have work experience in leadership, managing stressful situations and public service. At this level, no experience in law enforcement is necessary, but may be helpful.
  • GL-7: At least one year of law enforcement is necessary in order to be considered for employment at this level. It is also required for an applicant to have knowledge and work experience with arresting people, using firearms safely, working with an informant network, dealing with the public in a courteous manner and making decisions quickly within the context of a law enforcement situation. If the applicant does not have a year’s experience, they may also qualify with a Bachelor’s degree and at least one year of graduate school in a field related to criminal justice.
  • GL-9: This level requires experience; education cannot qualify someone for a job at this level.

Just as there are certain requirements one must meet in order to apply for a border patrol agent job, there are certain things that can make someone ineligible for consideration. These things include an arrest history, use of alcohol, poor credit, convictions and illegal drug use. While these things may disqualify some from being hired as agents, having education or work experience along with these issues may be helpful on an application.

Understanding and speaking Spanish is an important aspect of working in this field, particularly for those working along the Mexican border. Those hired will likely need to learn Spanish almost fluently. As a part of the application, a test will be administered that determines proficiency in the language. If the applicant does not speak Spanish at all, a different test will be given to determine their ability to learn a new language.

Training Programs

Once hired, the new agent will be required to attend an intensive training program run by the U.S. Border Patrol Academy in the state of New Mexico. Training includes courses in marksmanship, physical fitness and immigration laws. This will take 58 days, but an additional 40 days may be required if the candidate needs to learn Spanish. New employees will likely undergo rigorous testing of these skills before receiving an assignment to a border location.

Career Potential and Salary

As illegal immigration becomes a larger social issue in the United States, the government is charged with keeping the problem under control. This means that the job outlook may be quite good, especially for individuals who speak Spanish or who have experience with immigration law.

Salaries depend on the level at which one gets hired. The Office of Personal Management states that starting wages in the GL-5 level may range from $27,705 to $36,021. At the GL-7 level, that increases to a range of $34,319 to $44,615. A brand new level GL-9 agent might be paid between $41,979 and $54,570. It is important to remember that these are starting salaries. As agents gain experience and seniority, they will likely be able to move up levels and get an increase in pay.

Having an influence on the safety and security of the United States is possible with rewarding border patrol agent degrees and careers. Those interested in helping to strengthen the country in this way should be sure to request information from the schools of their choice.