Making sense of US-Mexico border trade can be a challenge without a basic knowledge of the agencies that regulate it.

There are a number of US and Mexican federal government agencies that play well-defined roles in enforcing laws, and applying rules and regulations that impact border trade in goods, and the movement of individuals back and forth across the boundary between the United States and Mexico. This article is the first of two parts that will provide the reader with an introduction to basic knowledge and understanding of the both country’s border trade and movement regulating agencies, and the specific role that each plays in the process.

United States Customs and Border Protection

CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Within the DHS, Customs and Border Protection is the largest federal agency with a presence on the international boundary. The US Customs and Border Protection Agency came into existence in March of 2003, as a result of the reorganization of government agencies that took place as a result of the terrorist attacks that took place in September 11, 2001. US Customs and Border Protection’s major responsibilities are to enforce laws that pertain to border trade, as well as to perform the duties that were previously performed by the US Naturalization and Immigration Service, which ceased to exist as a result of the aforementioned post-9/11 reorganiztion of federal law enforcedment agencies. US Customs and Border Protection:

  • Performs primary inspections at border crossings. This includes controlling the northbound flow of people and goods into the United States. Agents check individual IDs, inspect vehicles and review documentation of documentation related to border trade.
  • Conducts secondary inspections. Should agents feel that indivduals, or the cargo personal or commercial cargo that they are carrying require a more in-depth examination, special areas outside of points of primary inspection in which secondary examinations occur. Should no irregularities be found, individuals and cargo are released. Violations of customs, immigration or any other applicable US laws be discovered, CBP agents have the authority to make arrests, collect duties, taxes and fees, seize shipments and impound vehicles and protect the US homeland from the introduction of hazardous materials onto national territory.
  • Verifies identities of lawful entrants into the United States, and prevents the entry of those that do not possess proof of citizenship or other documents that grant individuals permission to enter the country legally.

United States Border Patrol

The primary mission of the USBP is “detect and prevent” the illegal entry of individuals into the United States. In a post 9/11 world, the United States Border Patrol is also charged with “preventing terrorists and terrorists weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States.” Like the CBP, the US Border Patrol is part of the US Department of Homeland Security.

Drug Enforcement Agency 

The DEA regulates border trade in controlled substances both legal and illegal. Companies that conduct border trade in legal controlled substances, both exporters and importers, are required to obtain licenses from and are subject to monitoring by the DEA.

United States Department of Transportation

The USDOT is the enforcer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Act. The FMCSA is concerned with increasing border trade safety by ensuring compliance with rules that apply to commercial vehicles and their drivers.

United States Department of Agriculture

The USDA ensures compliance with laws rules and regulations that apply to the importation of plants and animals, as well as their byproducts. Such goods cannot be released into the commerce of the United States without Department of Agriculture approval.

United States Department of the Interior

Department of the Interior personnel are present only at US ports of entry that have been specifically designated crossings for border trade in wild animals and their byproducts. The Department of the Interior requires that the importation of such items be accompanied by permits that are issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA regulates the movement of harmful materials and hazardous waste. In the border areas, much of the latter is generated as a result of activities undertaken by maquiladora manufacturers that are involved in border trade. The EPA works in cooperation with its counterpart Mexican agency, the National Insitute of Ecology (INE)

United States Food and Drug Administration

It is the responsibility of the FDA to enforce US health and safety laws pertaining to the importation of items such as:

  • foodstuffs
  • drugs
  • radiation emitting electronic and medical devices
  • biological products
  • cosmetics

The second part of this series will focus on the Mexican federal agencies that effect border trade and the flow of people across the expansive U.S. Mexico border.