A local presence
The early beginnings of the U.S. Border Patrol comprised agents roaming the countryside along the southern border, riding horseback and being responsible for covering miles and miles of open country on their own.
Although the tools of the trade may have changed, today’s Border Patrol Agents share that same spirit of independence and dedication to their duties.
“We’re essentially like those cowboys, we’re the trackers,’ said
Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Justin Costa.
Costa is one of a handful of Border Patrol agents who are part of a newly-formed Resident Agent Program. It’s a pilot project that was introduced to the Grand Forks sector.
It’s intended to expand situational awareness by placing agents in strategic locations a few miles off the border that traditionally don’t have a strong Border Patrol presence.
A handful are presently working out of Pierce County, including Costa.
These resident agents are considered self-reliant units, meaning they are able to perform all the standard Border Patrol duties without working from a traditional operation base.
“Our office is our vehicle,’ Costa explains. “Everything we need to perform our jobs comes out of the vehicle.”
The agents are equipped with weapons, communications equipment and access to other tools to carry out their duties. “If we need to, we use snowmobiles or ATVs,’ he said. “We even ride in helicopters.”
One of the things that makes the job exciting is the fact that every day is different. “One day I may be on patrol, the next working with area law enforcement, or conducting an investigation, it’s all different,’ said Costa, who was based in Bottineau for the past eight years.
Border Patrol agents are law enforcement officers, but unlike police or sheriff’s departments, their focus is different. The primary mission is protecting the border from terrorists and weapons of mass effect from entering the country. They are there to detect and deter illegal entries, whether that be people, contraband or weapons.
Another point of emphasis of the new program is for these agents to engage the communities they are based in, developing partnerships with area law enforcement agencies as well as working with the public.
Costa said that partnership is so important, in gaining intelligence and successfully carrying out their mission. “The public can be a wealth of information. They are often our eyes and ears,’ he said. I encourage the public to come up to us. We want them to be comfortable with seeing us around.”
Although Rugby may be considered a small town, it’s at the junction of two major highways – U.S. Highway 2 and North Dakota 3 – in north central North Dakota and near a major port of entry in Dunseith.
“There is a lot of traffic that passes through this area each day,’ Costa said. “Having our presence here is key.”
Showing a presence at and near the border is a deterrent, and so is catching someone. “Criminals have their information networks, and it doesn’t take long to learn when someone was caught.”
Border Patrol agents go through intensive training, including understanding immigration laws, working with weapons, making arrests and patrolling and investigation tactics. They must also speak Spanish.
Costa has several years in with the Border Patrol, and like all others, began his career down south. “(The U.S.-Mexico border) is where you begin,’ he said.
There are thousands of agents working along the southern border due to the volume of people residing there. They have to guard against human smuggling as well as drugs and weapons.
Eventually, agents work their way north. Rugby’s location makes it an ideal spot for another reason. Agents from the western region of the state meet those from the Grand Forks office here for briefings as well as to transport detainees. The Border Patrol also has a contract to house detainees at the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center.
Costa has 22 years of law enforcement background and those skills are used every day.
“Those of us who have the privilege of being Border Patrol agents are proud of what we do,’ he said.
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