by Vince Dowd

As illegal immigration spiked in the past twenty years, danger and violence on the border increased as well.  In order the respond to dangerous border situations the Border Patrol and Department of Homeland security needed to create a task force capable of doing such work.  BORSTAR or “Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue teams are highly specialized units capable of responding to emergency search and rescue situations anywhere in the United States.”[1]  BORSTAR’s primary mission is to act quickly on incidents where Border Patrol or other agents are distressed but also includes helping migrants who have become distressed while crossing the border. [2]  The national headquarters for BORSTAR are located in El Paso, Texas.  BORSTAR teams are put in place at every Southwest Border sector making it possible for the teams to respond quickly to an impending situation. BORSTAR is made up of Border Patrol agents who volunteer to take on new responsibilities.  “After serving two years in the Border Patrol, agents must apply for and pass a selection process in order to attend and five-week BORSTAR Academy.”[3]

BORSTAR Agents training in the desert.

Because of the harsh climate on the border , migrants attempting to cross illegally often get lost or find themselves in peril.  BORSTAR agents conduct rescue operations throughout the year, some lasting up to 5 days.  “These rescues vary in difficulty from simply locating victims and providing them with water to complex rescues requiring agents to rappel into remote canyons to assist victims and extract them by helicopter.”[4]

The creation of BORSTAR has had a large impact in the borderlands.  It provides Border Patrol Agents with added security knowing that BORSTAR agents can quickly respond to any situation.  “Because of the rugged terrain and the remote areas in which BORSTAR agents operate, they are frequently the only medical or rescue responders available. Their training and knowledge not only require them to locate distressed individuals but also enable them to provide medical assistance to stabilize patients and transport them to areas accessible by advanced life support units.”[5]  These rescues take place in a variety of weather conditions from below freezing nighttime temperatures, to the blazing hot triple-digit temperatures by day.  Because of these conditions and the remoteness of the areas, BORSTAR agents are trained in all conditions and situations.[6]

Another important aspect to the BORSTAR mission has become the use of canines in the field to assist agents in their tasks.  “Fully trained BORSTAR agents and their canine partners play a crucial role in locating fallen agents, civilians, and illegal aliens. The teams are commonly used in dangerous terrain and inclement weather to locate victims. Through the use of land navigational skills and the global positioning systems, canine teams are brought into areas where the missing person is likely to be found.”[7]  The use of canines helps agents cover large areas of land quickly.  The canines work off-leash and attempt to track the scent of the person missing.  When they locate the person they return to the handler and sit in front of them, signaling they found someone.  “The handlers then give the “show me” command, and the canines lead the handlers back to the lost persons. This whole process, called the “Recall-Re-Find Indication,” is crucial to the BORSTAR search and rescue mission.” [8] The canine program has had great success in the area.  The San Diego canine team found 132 illegal immigrants, saved 25 who were in distress, and rescued a four-year-old United States citizen in 2001.[9]  In the years following, the canine teams have achieved similar success throughout the borderlands.

Further Reading-

Kane, Linda. “Rescuing the Hopeless.” Customs and Border Protection Today. (accessed April 11, 2012).

Gilbert, James. “Training ‘game’ at BP media academy.” Yuma Sun. (accessed April 11, 2012).

“BORSTAR unit rescues immigrants in distress.” Valley Central. (accessed April 11, 2012).

[1] “Borstar Overview,” Borderstar, (accessed April 10, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR),” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, (accessed April 10, 2012).

[4] “Borstar Overview,” Borderstar. (accessed April 10, 2012).

[5] “Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR),” U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (accessed April 10, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7] “BORSTAR Canine Program,” Borderstar, (accessed April 10, 2012).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.