Guest column // By Rick Van SchoikEvery day, every minute CBP serves

Published 20 January 2012

In the first column in an ongoing series featuring contributors from the North American Center for Transborder Studies (NACTS) at Arizona State University, Rick Van Schoik, the center’s director, provides an overview of U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s broad mission as well as the key challenges the agency faces in securing the nation’s borders

Rick Van Schoik, director of the NACTS at ASU // Source:

As we begin this guest column series for 2012 we thought we’d begin by outlining the extraordinary challenge that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has both at the ports of entry as well as the stretches of border between them.  As our center’s name implies, we will focus on transborder issues but will comment on other security issues as well.    

We all have an experience that begins to relate to the challenge that CBP has.  I say “begins to” because locking your door when you leave your home pales in comparison with the threats and risks that CBP faces in helping to secure the United States.

We might lock our doors and windows, but still have no assurance that this will keep a determined thief or intruder out.  Moreover, we don’t consider that a potential intruder might enter through some other “port of entry into our house.”  We also don’t usually worry about things leaving our house except perhaps the dog or cat escaping into the yard.

CBP has not only the job of securing both borders and ports of entry but also ensuring that guns, ammunition, bulk cash, and precursor chemicals don’t leave the country and ultimately  arm and fuel the very narco-traffickers who are trying to smuggle marijuana, synthetic chemicals, and hard drugs into our country.   

At the same time CBP facilitates the daily flow of thousands of trucks, millions of people, and billions of dollars of international commerce critical to the jobs and economic development of the three North American nations.

CBP has adopted an “all hazards” approach to borders and security.  They address all threats, risks, dangers, and eventualities because regardless of the probability, impact, or consequence, they have a mandate and mission to, as their name implies, protect the nation’s borders. 

Border Operations
Of course everyone’s first thought in relation to border security is catching the irregular migrant.  Obviously the risk from economic migration and refugees is low but the sheer numbers are enough to capture both the imagination of the public and the agency’s attention.

Second on everyone’s list is interdicting illicit materials, drugs being the most significant.  I think it is important to remember that this is a co-responsibility of the United States and our neighbors. CBP is also involved in interdicting outbound bulk cash, weapons and ammunition, and precursor chemicals.

Getting less attention is the war being fought in the cyberworld.  Protecting the transborder electrical grid, pipeline network, and