Customs and Border Protection has been steadily increasing the number of its border patrol agents. But recently the agency commissioned a recruitment drive aimed at boosting the ranks of female agents.
Only about 5 percent of the border patrol’s 21,000 agents are women. But with more and more women trying to cross the Mexican border, CBP officials think having more women agents could help. CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told Federal Drive with Tom Temin that the border patrol has received 5,500 applications from women as part of its recent recruitment effort.
“As a police chief for a long time, I know that women in law enforcement bring a huge amount of positive to any law enforcement agency, and increasing those numbers for the border patrol will do exactly the same thing,” he said.
When CBP made its case to the Office of Personnel Management to conduct the female-focused recruitment drive for the border patrol, Kerlikowske said, one of the factors mentioned was the significant increase of women and families crossing the Mexican border.
“The real goal, of course, is that we needed to increase the numbers at all the levels, all the ranks, and throughout the border patrol of women, because of all of the skills that they bring to the job,” he said.
Kerlikowske pointed to research that shows women in law enforcement not only perform just as well as men but actually do a better job than men in some areas.
“They do exactly the same jobs as the male border patrol agents, so the hiring process, the screening, the selection, the training is all very much the same,” he said. “But women bring a perspective and negotiating skill to law enforcement and to the border patrol that we very much need.”
On the Mexican border, many of the people that agents encounter are coming from traumatic situations. Last summer, 50 women reported being sexually assaulted by human traffickers.
“They come often times from a country where law enforcement often is not seen as a trusted partner and a friend and an organization that can help them,” Kerlikowske said. “And so, when they see the agents in uniform, we need to establish a level of trust and a level of confidence to these people that have gone through really a horrendous journey to make it into the United States, and we need to make them feel safe. Women do a great job at that.”
One of the requirements of the border patrol’s recent recruitment effort was that applicants had to be fluent in Spanish or willing to learn the language. Kerlikowske said long as an applicant demonstrates a proclivity to learning the language, his agency will provide training at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico.
In addition to the language requirement, the female applicants also must meet the physical training standards of the job.
“The women border patrol agents that I have met with have made it very clear that they became border patrol agents by going through all of the same process and by achieving not only academically but physically the same levels as their male counterparts,” Kerlikowske said. “They want to make sure women coming in as a result of this hiring surge on our part actually meet the same standards.”
Congress recently passed the 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act (S 1691) to address and streamline Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO), the extra pay agents receive when their work demands they remain on the job beyond scheduled hours.
Kerlikowske acknowledged that AUO, which had been in place for decades, was a significant problem that had to be addressed.
“The Border Patrol Pay Reform Act has been passed, and it will make a significant difference in stabilizing the pay for our border patrol agents,” he said.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, 6 a.m.-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere.
Tom also writes a weekly commentary. Subscribe to Federal Drive's daily audio interviews on iTunes or PodcastOne