The Border Patrol’s Fearless 5%
The Border Patrol is one of the largest federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S., with roughly 19,000 officers. It also has one of the largest gender disparities – for decades, the number of women on the force has held steady around 5%. Despite years of demands for reform, the Border Patrol hasn’t managed to substantially increase the number of women in the agency.
Reporter Erin Siegal McIntyre set out to examine why this number has remained so low. She spoke with more than two dozen current and former Border Patrol agents and reviewed hundreds of pages of complaints and lawsuits in which agents allege sexual harassment or assault. Those interviews and documents reveal a workplace where a wide range of sexual misconduct is pervasive: from stale sex jokes to retaliation for reporting sexual misconduct and assault and rape.
Siegal McIntyre starts with the first class of women who were allowed to become Border Patrol agents in 1975. We hear from Ernestine Lopez, a member of that class. Days before graduation, she is raped by a classmate and reports it. She’s abruptly fired, leading her on a 12-year legal battle against the government. This is the first time Lopez, now 85, has told her story publicly.
Next, we hear from a young woman who loved working as an agent but left the Border Patrol at the peak of her career. Her supervisor had targeted her and other women on her team by hiding a camera in the floor drain in the women’s restroom. This is the first time she has spoken to a news outlet about her experience of reporting her supervisor and pursuing a case in court against him and the Border Patrol.
Then we follow the story of Kevin Warner, a Border Patrol probationary agent who was abruptly fired months after participating in a sex game along with a dozen other agents, including his superiors. Warner alleges that he was wrongfully discharged. Then Siegal McIntyre takes her reporting to a former chief of the Border Patrol, Mark Morgan. She asks about workplace culture, the low number of women in the agency and the lack of transparency around investigations of sexual misconduct in the patrol.
Support for Erin Siegal McIntyre’s work was provided by the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and The Harnisch Foundation. Special thanks to Ruth Ann Harnisch, Deborah Golden and the Gumshoe Group for their legal support; to John Turner and Gary Kirk from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC Chapel Hill; and to UNC students Jade Wilson, Sinclair Holian and Sierra Pfeifer for research and transcription assistance.
Erin Siegal McIntyre is an investigative journalist and photographer. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Latino USA, and various other media outlets.
Co-published with Reveal.