A Woman in the Danger Zone: Interview With a Border Patrol Agent

A Woman in the Danger Zone: Interview With a Border Patrol Agent

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Editor’s Note: As President Obama visits the Texas-Mexico border, Prensa Hispana reporter Maritza Lizeth Félix writes that those who work securing the border have much in common with those who attempt to cross it. In the second of a two-part series reported from the Arizona-Mexico border, Félix interviews Border Patrol agent Claudia Alvarado.

“Good luck,” her colleagues call out to her at 8:00 in the morning as they arrive at camp after working a 12-hour shift, patrolling the border between Sonora and Arizona. Claudia Alvarado calls back to them, fixes her uniform and gets in the patrol where she’ll spend hours touring the desert in search of suspicious activity. This time she’s on the morning shift, but there are times when she patrols the border at night, accompanied only by the stars.

Claudia is one of the few women in the Border Patrol who ventures to spend seven days in a camp in the middle of the desert. It isn’t easy. There is limited or no communication with the outside world. Shifts are long and exhausting. The heat is brutal in the summer and the nights are cold. And with the danger comes adrenaline. In addition, the Tucson region and surrounding areas are a "hot zone" because of the undocumented immigrants, and the smuggling of drugs and weapons.

After nine years in the Border Patrol and with a history in the U.S. Armed Forces, the agent says she is still not immune to the pain of others and that despite criticism of the agency, she is proud to belong to the organization. Perhaps because she is part of a Mexican American family, she says, she is able to stay focused on her work, without ever forgetting that those who cross the border are human too.

Alvarado denied that the border is, as many politicians have said, a “war zone.” She was interviewed by Prensa Hispana.

What’s it like being one of the few women in the Border Patrol?

We need to be at the same level as men; I take training seriously because of that. It’s obviously not possible physically, but we have the tools given to us all to do the job. I have not felt that there is a difference; I’ve always felt equal.

Why did you choose the Border Patrol?

I wasn’t necessarily interested in being Border Patrol because as a little girl I was interested in playing basketball, but then I got in the Army and when I left there I came here. I didn’t know much about the Border Patrol, but what I liked were the checkpoints and that was what interested me, being outside and not in an office.

Do you consider the Border Patrol a trustworthy agency?

Yes. You can trust us, because as much as we have been criticized, we have also done good things. Sometimes we are the first to arrive to a rescue. The coyotes, or smugglers, leave people on the ground without water. There are women who are raped, there are those who are robbed of their water, food or even what they were wearing. Many are beaten. That’s why the first ones they are happy to see, ironically, are us because we help them.

What is it like when an undocumented immigrant is arrested?

The truth is that it is always a professional relationship. They are treated with respect. We talk to them and try to get information on how they crossed, what they can tell us about who they made some arrangement with. There are some who are willing to talk, because of how it went with the coyotes, and there are others who are very short with us and don’t say much.

Are there more undocumented immigrants or drug smugglers? 

In this area, I have seen undocumented persons and people with drugs ... there are a lot of people who just bring food in their backpacks, but there are a lot who bring drugs. In my experience, I've had more people with personal items than drugs.

Are you afraid to go out alone to patrol the border? 

That fear is always going to be there, but it's something that I take positively, and makes me more alert. It’s not something that will prevent me from doing my job. I just try to be more alert. I check my surroundings and always focus on knowing what else might be in that area. If it is a drug activity, it is more dangerous. Or sometimes it’s just a group of people who are crossing. Because of that, there is also more communication between agents, for our safety.

Have you been attacked because of your job?

Some people have thrown rocks, there’s been a lot of cursing, a lot of disrespect. I found one that tried to run away and another one that I could see evil in his eyes.

What will it take to make the border more secure?

To do our job, we need technology and more agents.

Is the border really a ‘war zone’?


Do you have a story that has made an impression on you as an agent?

I remember a woman I came across in the desert three or four times in the same week. She was sent back and re-entered ... and you do feel the human side, because she was an older woman who was trying and trying to be here. It's sad, but it was also satisfying that I found her and could help her. It was also in the middle of the summer and if she had continued her journey, she might not have made it. I don’t know if she made it later or not.

And then we had a girl who was severely dehydrated and was having seizures. We got her an ambulance and she made it through.

Have you had to deal with death during your service?

Yes, but it's something you get used to and it’s helpful to talk with the other agents and have that support ... they are the only ones who know the things we see every day.

So after a while do you lose empathy for the pain of others?

No, you always understand why they want to come and understand that they want to come for a better life. You don’t stop feeling; it doesn’t make you cold. In addition, in cases of emergency, life or death cases, the fact that they entered the country illegally takes a back seat, since the important thing is making sure they are okay.

Would you give your life for this job?

If that was the situation, yes.

What is your message for those who criticize the work of the Border Patrol?

Before you criticize or judge, there are always two sides to every story in every situation.