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Background/Pre-history

Legislation approved under the Act of June 25, 1910, provided for the construction of border inspection stations, inspection stations, and customs and immigration inspection stations, with funding approved under the Public Buildings Act of 1926.

Keyes-Elliott Act
The need to improve the physical circumstances under which customs and immigration laws were enforced along the border coincided with growing concern over the state of U.S. government facilities in general. On May 25, 1926, Congress passed the Keyes-Elliot, or Public Buildings Act. The act authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to prepare a “survey and investigations of public building conditions.”  The results of this survey, prepared in 1927, became the basis for expenditures of over $700 million during the ensuing decade for construction of post offices, courthouses, marine hospitals, custom houses, and "other public buildings of the classes under the control of the Treasury Department." The Treasury Department’s Office of the Supervising Architect was made responsible for preparation of designs, drawings, estimates, and specifications.

Included in this building program were 47 border inspection stations (the number was apparently revised to 48 during the course of the program). The locations and programmatic requirements for these stations were based upon recommendations presented in a written report from 1928 by H. A. Benner of the Bureau of Customs and J. L. Hughes of the Bureau of Immigration.


The Benner and Hughes Report and the Need for New Border Inspection Stations
In a congressional report dated March 13, 1928, H. A. Benner of the Bureau of Customs and J. L. Hughes of the Bureau of Immigration reported why the then-present quarters and facilities were inadequate to meet that need and recommended that the government construct purpose-built border inspection stations for border highways at 48 locations. Prior to these border inspection stations, the earlier non-purpose-built customs and immigrations facilities proved inadequate to handle the increased volume and were ill positioned to monitor illegal crossings of the border. The traditional government practice of placing customs and immigration officials in a wide variety of buildings also proved increasingly difficult to sustain since available space was seldom at the strategic points, thereby rendering government supervision ineffective and inconveniencing to the traveling public. Harried inspectors were early on reduced to offering the suggestion that signs be erected along the principal international highways directing tourists to report to the custom house or immigration station, wherever that facility might be located. This measure, however, was unpopular and of limited success because “travelers seriously protest against detouring even for a few miles in order to pass through the regular recognized inspection ports.”’ Inspection facilities themselves often left much to be desired. At particularly remote locations, customs and immigration laws might be enforced out of, and the inspectors and their families might live in, remodeled railroad freight cars. Often, the possessions of individuals needed to be inspected out in the open, exposed to natural elements. One observation, according to Benner and Hughes, on a drizzly October night in Rouses Point, New York, "Well dressed and dignified people were moving about in the rain opening luggage compartments and baggage containers and exposing the contents for official inspection – and to the elements. Naturally under such circumstances, to avoid serious damage to the personal property of the tourists, the examination must be hurried, with consequent danger to the revenue. A few village idlers stood by. It is said that the group of spectators, who regard the officers and the travelling public as performers for their entertainment, is considerably increased during fair weather." 

Until the 1920s, goods and people entered the United States primarily at sea, lakes, or river ports. At land points of entry, customs and immigrations officials were housed in government buildings built primarily for a different function or in space rented from private entities.

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border stations, land port of entry, historic preservation, oca, pbs