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Customs Officials


Countries collect taxes on imports and sometimes on exports as a means of producing revenue for the government. Export duties were first introduced in England in 1275 by a statute that levied taxes on animal hides and on wool. American colonists in the 1700s objected to the import duties England forced them to pay (levied under the Townshend Acts), charging "taxation without representation." Although the British government rescinded the Townshend Acts, it retained the tax on tea, which led to the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

After the American Revolution, delegates at the Constitutional Convention decided that "no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state," but they approved taxing imports from abroad. The customs service was established by the First Congress in 1789 as part of the Treasury Department. Until 1816 these customs assessments were used primarily for revenue. The Tariff Act of 1816 declared, however, that the main function of customs laws was to protect American industry from foreign companies. By 1927 the customs service was established as a separate bureau within the Treasury Department.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 prompted a restructuring of many governmental agencies, including the U.S. Customs Service. In 2003, the U.S. Customs Service was renamed Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and merged with portions of the Department of Agriculture, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Border Patrol. CBP became an official agency of the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.

Today, CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the United States. It oversees hundreds of laws and regulations and collects more than $35 billion annually in entry duties and taxes. Next to the International Revenue Service, the CBP generates the most revenue for the U.S. government.

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