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Females crossing U.S. border up 173%, but only 5% of agents are women

Border Patrol seeking more female agents because crossings by female migrants have greatly increased

The Border Patrol is looking for a few good women – more than a few actually – to work along the Southwest border, where the number of females crossing into the U.S. has increased dramatically. 

Just 5% of the Border Patrol’s 21,000 agents are women. But the number of apprehended female migrants topped 120,000 in the fiscal year that ended in October, a 173% increase from 2011.

To address that disparity and to try to bring Customs and Border Protection male-female ratios in line with other federal law enforcement agencies, the Border Patrol has received a special waiver to limit applications to women during its 10-day December recruitment window, which closed last week.

“Other federal law enforcement [agencies] were at 16% female. We’ve stayed at 5%,” said Shevannah Wray, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection in the Tucson sector. “We need to increase that number in order to have females to search females that we arrest. And then just to reflect the workforce of the U.S.”

Presently the Border Patrol allows male agents to search female migrants, but it would prefer to have women perform that task.

Increasing the number of female agents could also help alleviate another problem along the border. Amnesty International says that because 6 in 10 female migrants are sexually assaulted by men during their journey, they often are frightened and distrustful of male law enforcement agents.

“There are females that have been abused along their journey,” Wray said. “So I imagine that they may feel more comfortable talking to a female agent.”

Wray did not have a figure for the number of women who filed applications this month, but she said that 84% of those who applied during the October recruitment period were male. Female applicants who are accepted still have to meet the same rigorous standards as male candidates, including a fitness exam and background checks. Spanish-language skills are also required for all agents working along the Southwest border.

Another application window – for men and women -- will open in 2015. Customs and Border Patrol has a legislative mandate to maintain a force of 21,000 agents. It will have to hire 1,600 people in 2015 to comply.

Starting salaries range from $39,000 to $44,000.

Wray said there has been no determination how many of those agents will be female. But, she added, hiring Customs and Border Patrol agents can be difficult given the demands of the job.

“It already is going to draw a certain type of people,” said Wray, one of just two women in her academy class of 50. “You have to like the outdoors. You have to be OK with working by yourself a lot of times. So it makes sense that we have less females and just less people in general that want to work in the border area.”

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