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Border Patrol Completes Recruitment Drive Aimed At Women


Some other news - one of this country's leading law-enforcement agencies wants to hire more women. Law enforcement is by-and-large a male-dominated business. Women make up 15 percent of the staff in a typical federal law-enforcement agency, for example. In the border patrol, only 5 percent of the agents are women. In an effort to change that, NPR's John Burnett reports the Border Patrol has completed its first recruitment drive directed at women.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: As the patrol agent in charge of the Nogales, Arizona station, Leslie Lawson is the highest-ranked female patrol agent in the entire force. She started her 20-year career in the San Diego sector during the '90s when massive numbers of illegal crossers sprinted across the desert.

LESLIE LAWSON: So every night was chasing people down, handcuffing them - large groups of people. And it was not unusual for just, you know, two people to catch a 100 people at a time.

BURNETT: Lawson discovered she loved being a border officer. And she wanted other women to consider it as a career. She personally pitched in to help recruit at junior colleges and military bases with appeals like this one.

LAWSON: If you want a job where you can get out of the office, every day is different and you have the wind in your hair and the freedom to be outside and help secure America, there this - there's just no job like it.

BURNETT: Of the 21,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide, 95 percent are men. If most police agencies are male oriented, the Border Patrol is especially so. And it's not for every woman who wants to go into law enforcement, says Monique Grame. She oversees 625 agents as deputy patrol agent in charge of the McAllen, Texas station.

MONIQUE GRAME: We work rotating shifts. You're often working alone. The areas are very remote and rural. So a lot of young women who come in, you know, they're starting families. They're having children. It's stressful. And a lot of times they have to move, you know, hundreds of miles away from home. And they don't have that family support network there.

BURNETT: The Border Patrol has said one reason it seeks more female agents is so they can process the increasing number of noncitizen families coming across the Southwest border, such as the surge that came from Central America last summer. Yet Monique Grame cannot say that female agents did a better job than male agents.

GRAME: A lot of people think, well, maternal instincts kick in with children. Well, many of our male agents are fathers. Their paternal instincts kick in. And they did an outstanding job.

BURNETT: Grame, who's the mother of a teenage son, says there are other good reasons to have women wearing the distinctive green uniform.

GRAME: We look at things a little differently than men. Men are very, you know, black and white, point A to point B, where women think, OK, well, there’s a lot to fill in between point A and point B.

BURNETT: There are other differences between male and female law-enforcement officers. Surveys show that women are significantly less likely to become corrupt cops or to be involved in violent incidents. Nancy Jurik is a sociologist at Arizona State University where she studies women and policing.

NANCY JURIK: The data suggest that women are less involved in force incidents. And when they are, they're less likely to be the initiating party.

BURNETT: Both corruption and use of deadly force are issues that have generated controversy for the Border Patrol on the southwest frontier. A Border Patrol spokesman reported the recruitment drive that ended earlier this month drew nearly 6,000 female applicants. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
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