The Virgin Islands is an unincorporated territory of the U.S. It is a major tourist destination, receiving over 2 million cruise ship passengers a year. Travel by air to the islands is also popular, with over 678,000 air visitors in 2011. The ports in the Virgin Island also facilitate the shipment of a large amount of goods through the territory. This flow of people and goods into the Virgin Islands is monitored by the Customs Border Protection (CBP) Division of the Department of Homeland Security.
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The number of Customs and Border Patrol agents have been greatly increased in the U.S. since 9/11, due to fears that further terrorist acts might take place on U.S. soil. The number of agents in the Virgin Islands has also been increased. The unique geography of this territory with its 233 miles of coastline and over 50 small islets and cays greatly increases the difficulty of monitoring traffic into and out of this territory.
Border Entry Points in the Virgin Islands
Each of the three major islands in the territory has an official border entry point that employ Customs and Border Patrol agents. The border entry points are under the purview of the San Juan Field Operations Office and are as follows:
- Charlotte Amalie (for St. Thomas)
- Cruz Bay (for St. John)
- St. Croix
Drug Trafficking in the Virgin Islands
A major role in the jobs of Customs and Border Patrol agents in the Virgin Islands is to intercept drugs that are being transported into this territory. This is a particularly challenging job in the Virgin Islands that has such a large amount of drug trafficking that it is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area designation for Puerto Rico.
In recent years, the amount of drug smuggling in the area has increased as drug trafficking organizations in Columbia and Venezuela have shifted their air transportation of cocaine from the Dominican Republic to the Virgin Islands. This trend has been explored in a recent report by the U.S. Justice Department National Drugs Intelligence Center.
Customs and Border Agent patrols have been increased both on the land in the Virgin Islands and on the sea as small boat and yacht traffic has been increasing in recent years. These agents have helped to intercept shipments of cocaine from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic as part of Operation Broken Bridge to preempt their importation in the Virgin Islands. They also provided significant support in an investigation that led to the 2012 conviction of four individuals for bringing large amounts of cocaine and marijuana into the Virgin Islands.
Additional Customs and Border Patrol Roles in the Virgin Islands
Issues of human smuggling into the Virgin Islands have been a persistent problem for this territory. In 2004, the Virgin Islands was considered the gateway of choice for those who would illegally transport individuals into the U.S. The introduction of Chinese nationals into the U.S. through the Caribbean has been a particular challenge for Customs and Border Patrol agents who play a pivotal role in intercepting this traffic.
Another job of Customs and Border Patrol agents in this territory is preventing potential terrorist attacks on the Virgin Islands by monitoring individuals who enter this area. While there have been no potential attacks detected in this territory, the potential for such attacks is always a consideration in areas that have a large amount of drug trafficking. It is estimated that one third of the terrorist organizations known are involved with the drug trade.