TUCSON — The U.S. Border Patrol is on a hiring spree for a very specific type of
agent: a female one.
Only 5 percent of its approximately 21,000 agents are women, and the agency has long considered that statistic a problem, especially in dealing with the massive numbers of women attempting to enter the United States and facing problems related to violence and sexual assault.
The issue is especially troublesome in the Southwest, where nearly 120,000 women were caught crossing the border illegally in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31. That’s a significant increase from fiscal year 2011, when about 43,000 women were apprehended.
The agency’s southwest region includes Arizona, Texas and California.
But while the number of women who cross the border has grown, the number of female border agents has remained low.
That’s a concern for Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network, an immigrant rights group in Tucson.
“Most women are victimized by men, so having a first responder who’s a man inherently creates mistrust,” Molina said.
One in six female migrants is sexually assaulted while crossing the border, according to Amnesty International. Many more become sick or lost while crossing.
The Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) team is responsible for saving lost or injured migrants and administering first aid. In Tucson, only one agent on this elite team is a woman. Nationwide, there are four.
The Border Patrol responds to hundreds of cases each year of immigrants who need to be rescued while crossing the desert. The agency conducted 509 rescues in the 2014 fiscal year in the Tucson sector, though that’s a much smaller figure than in past years.
The Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas has seen the largest number of migrants, with almost 49 percent of migrants caught crossing in Rio Grande Valley being women.
Last summer, the agency was overwhelmed by a surge in unaccompanied minors and women with children who were crossing into Texas and surrendering to the Border Patrol.