Border Patrol struggling to recruit female agents despite massive effort

 U.S. Border Patrol agent Nicole Ballistrea on December 9, 2014 in Nogales, Arizona.

U.S. Border Patrol agent Nicole Ballistrea on December 9, 2014 in Nogales, Arizona.  (2014 Getty Images)

Following last year’s surge of migrants heading over the United States’ southern border from Central America and Mexico, the Border Patrol pledged to hire 1,600 female agents under the rationale that they would be better equipped to deal with the women and children fleeing their homelands.

It’s been over a year now and so far only 50 women have been hired to work along the border.

"We are really looking to ramp up," Stacy King, Supervisory Human Resources Specialist for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency told the Washington Post, "but recruitment, hiring and retention of female law enforcement officers continues to be a challenge for us."

After the job posting for female agents was listed on USAJobs.com last December, the Border Patrol says it received 3,972 applications and there are still a few hundred currently being vetted for jobs. But the agency still has the lowest number of women in the federal government – about five percent, compared to the 15 percent average – and the work, play and rigors of the job aren’t helping keep female agents.

About 6 percent of women quit within their first year, compared to the average of 4 percent for men.

The work of a border agent is generally solitary and dangerous, requiring its employees to spend hours outside, often at night, in the sparsely hinterlands of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

While a college degree is not required, fluency in Spanish is and salaries for starting agents begin at $39,400 for a GS-5 grade level to $50,000 (GS-7).

The Border Patrol also holds women to the same physical standards at every stage of their training – and once they’re in the field – as their male counterparts.

"The way I see it is, we’re federal cops," Adriana Palacios, an operations officer and recruiter for the Border Patrol station in Edinburg, Tex., in the Rio Grande Valley told the Washington Post. "You work by yourself. You could be alone in the dark and your partner is a mile down the river."

Another deterrent is the hostile climate that many law enforcement officers in the U.S. now face in the wake of a slew of racially-related arrests and killings in places like Ferguson, Miss., Pasco, Wash. and New York City.

"There’s been a lot of negative press, and it’s a tough time right now to recruit for law enforcement positions," King said.

Adding to this, King said, is the confusion that some people have between the Border Patrol and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and the bad experience many people have while visiting an airport.

Still, some agents said the women enrolled in the Border Patrol play a key role in dealing with the scores of migrant women crossing the U.S.’s southern border — many of whom who have been sexually and physically abused during their journey north.

"We have an incredible cadre of agents, but with the increase in women and girls, the women are flagging us down like taxicabs" when they cross the border, said Monique Grame, deputy patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol station in McAllen, Tex. "They have had one heck of a journey from when they leave their home countries."

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