US Customs and Border Protection Hopes to Attract More Female Agents

At just 5-foot-2, Agent Lorena Apodaca prepares for her shift with US Customs and Border Protection. The 37-year-old was one of only two females to pass the agency’s grueling academy this year.

Of the roughly 21,000 border patrol agents, only about 5 percent are female despite the fact that over 6,200 females applied for employment vacancies from October 2014 through September 2015. The pool of applicants was reduced to 1,300 qualified candidates and of that only 54 women were selected. These statistics are much lower than the average 15 percent of women across all other federal law enforcement agencies.

The agency’s 10-step hiring process is considered difficult even for males. Step one is an application with 90 questions followed by a written test, medical exam, interview, physical fitness evaluation, polygraph test, drug screen and FBI background check. To make things more difficult for women, especially those who are mothers, the interviews are all held at a location in West Texas so those living outside of the area, including the entire state of New Mexico, must travel to that location for the interview.

Cathy Sanz, executive director of the advocacy group, Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE), said that the hiring process is “designed for people to fail. The focus becomes women because some of the categories affect women more,” she said. “Single parents start to self-select out,” she added. Additionally, the requirement for agents to scale a 7-foot wall has been considered discriminatory against women. Despite the challenges, the agency continues to examine its inability to attract qualified female candidates.

In 1971 President Richard Nixon ended a ban on women law enforcement agents carrying weapons and in 1971 the first women were hired.