After Nine Decades, New Female Border Patrol Chief at Nogales: Part Six of One of the Border Patrol’s Dirty Little Secrets

It’s always a great day when an experienced law enforcement professional is promoted to a challenging new position.  And it was a great day on Friday when Leslie M. Lawson was formally sworn in as the Patrol Agent in Charge (PAIC) of the Nogales, Arizona, Border Patrol Station.  As the PAIC, Ms. Lawson will head the largest Border Patrol Station in the country, a station that confronts major drug trafficking and significant illegal immigration on a daily basis.

The new Nogales PAIC, who also carries the title of an Associate Chief, has a distinguished career in the Border Patrol that to date spans seventeen years.  This includes a variety of increasing administrative responsibilities like a recent assignment as an attaché at the United States Embassy in Mexico City.  Indeed Ms. Lawson, according to the Border Patrol, was, “…the first female Supervisory Border Patrol Agent and Patrol Agent in Charge assigned to the Ramey Station” in Puerto Rico and also, “…the first female Assistant Chief Patrol Agent at the Swanton Sector” in Vermont.

But the problem on Friday is not that an experienced female agent was assigned to be a PAIC at a very high profile station. The real, unstated problem is that of the 122 Border Patrol stations throughout our nation, the new PAIC at Nogales will become only the fifth woman now holding that position.  Out of 20 Border Patrol sectors, there are only three women who are Sector Chiefs.  And finally, of the approximately 22,000 Border Patrol agents now serving, only 5% are female.

In fact, PAIC Lawson in 2008 and 2009, according to the Border Patrol,  “…co-led a national workgroup examining methods to improve the Border Patrol’s recruitment and retention of women.”

It’s great that the BP leaders finally created this workgroup, but it’s a little late in the game. Since the BP was created by Congress in 1924, it’s about NINE DECADES late.  For many, many years the top male decision-makers at the Border Patrol would not admit there was even a problem.  Now they seem to be stumped: golly, they just cannot seem to find realistic solutions to gender discrimination.  And this institutionalized gender discrimination in the BP is not going to vaporize into thin air  just because PAIC Lawson now runs the Nogales BP station.

So listen up male managers in the Border Patrol: below is the start of a solution to gender discrimination in the BP which does not require a special task force or pretending that by hiring a competent leader like PAIC Lawson the Border Patrol is now free of gender bias:

  1. Treat all agents, regardless of gender, in the same fair and honest ways as determined and defined by existing federal law.
  2. Expose those agents, supervisors, and managers who discriminate against co-workers based upon gender to the full force of the existing federal law.  As federal law enforcement officers, begin to enforce gender laws within your own agency.
  3. Continue to promote competent, professional women such as PAIC Lawson to positions of responsibility not because they are women, but because they are the best persons for the job.
  4. Take a hard look at the family-unfriendly and hostile work environments that exist for many female agents at certain BP stations and in certain BP sectors.
  5. Follow the template of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that currently employs definitive methods to recruit, train, and retain female agents.  Fully 20% of all FBI agents are women.

There is no doubt that PAIC Lawson will do an excellent job in Nogales.  But the Border Patrol should stop hiding behind token promotions of females to high profile positions; this BP trick is certainly not the first time the BP has done this. Instead the Border Patrol needs to address fundamental institutional change based upon the requirements, standards, and expectations of existing federal law.  And do so before another NINE DECADES passes by.

(To be continued.)

(Coming soon, posts in Spanish.)

Selected References:

Press Release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, @

Brady McCombs, “New Chief for Border Patrol Office at Nogales”, 7/22/11 @

Robert Lee Maril, “The Fence”, pages 179-197, Texas Tech University Press.

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