"I am worried about you," he said. "I believe you are so angry about what happened to you in the Border Patrol when you were raped that you are taking your anger out on Border Patrol agents. You are obsessing about them and attacking them."
I remembered his face from the day before. He was sitting in the front row sometimes dozing, sometimes listening to an hour long presentation I made about the last 30 years of failed immigration policies. "Have you come to this conclusion because of the things I was talking about yesterday? I'm asking that because I make it clear at the beginning of every talk to say that this is not about individual agents. Did you hear me say that most agents join the Border Patrol as I did, naive and ignorant of what they are actually doing? That it is about a corrupt system and management that keeps it that way? Do you remember me saying that comments about agents all being corrupt or rapists is as offensive and ignorant as saying all migrants are criminals or drug dealers?"
He was clearly well over seventy years old and had hearing aids in both ears. "Oh yes," he said. "And I have also read everything you've written. Everything."
"And that is your conclusion? That I hate Border Patrol agents because I was raped by one?"
"Well, yeah," he said.
Had we been anywhere else, I would not have been surprised by this response. Many people who blindly support the agency believe this, but this man was a Green Valley Samaritan. He spends some of his time volunteering to help migrants and asylum seekers in the Tucson, Arizona area. He knows the brutality of my former agency. Plus, if he truly had read everything I'd written, he would have known better.
"Do you know what the Fierce Five Percent is? That is what the agency calls us female agents, and if you've truly read "everything" I've written, you would know that I am proud to be one. I survived that academy just like the guys did, and I did it standing next to my rapist which none of them did. I am proud that I was that strong. I am proud that I joined to serve my country. I took that oath to protect my country, my fellow citizens from what I was told were drug dealers, rapists, murderers and other criminals not knowing that they were lying to me."
"No, I didn't know that," he admitted.
"Do you know that I talk to many current and former agents? That I have a male agent barely hanging on to his sanity because he went to the Border Patrol and told them he was having PTSD issues because of the brutalities he's witnessed and engaged in as an agent and they fired him? That he cannot even get out of his house because all he can think about is ending his life? Or that I currently talk with several female agents who have been sexually harassed and even assaulted by their fellow agents and they cannot get help from the agency but are instead targeted as I was? Do you know that I spend time getting them help the government should have gotten them?"
"No, I did not know any of that, but I still think you use your experiences to get back at agents," he insisted.
"I use my experiences to inform people that these things are still going on in the Patrol. The man who raped me is retired and in his 50s as I am. I have forgiven him. If I were trying to get back at agents, would I spend my time meeting with them? Would I take calls from supervisors with only a few years left who are scared because the agency has become completely immoral, unethical and rogue? Would I take calls from spouses who are terrified at how violent their Border Patrol agent spouses are becoming and how the agency will not help them? Would I sit in court rooms with agents' spouses who are just trying to get a restraining order so their Border Patrol agent partner doesn't threaten them with their service gun again? Would I make promises to not write or publish a word about their stories because helping the victims is my first goal, not hurting the Border Patrol?"
"I didn't know all of that," he relented.
"I know you don't know that because I do not talk about those things. I know you don't know that because you are a man who thinks he knows everything and is judging me as a victim, but I am no longer a victim sir. I am a survivor who is using her experiences and traumas to support others and tell the truth."
It has been an incredible journey as one of the few female Border Patrol agents willing to tell the truth about the sexual violence often perpetrated against us by our fellow agents and how the agency runs a secret system to cover it all up. In my research, the thing that strikes me the most is that my sexual assault was not unusual. It was in fact a common occurrence in the Border Patrol. My rapist wasn't just a bad apple amongst a barrel of great apples as I had believed for many years. There were many bad apples in that barrel, shoulder to shoulder with good ones. Agents hired without their background checks being finished. Agents later discovered to be cartel members, undocumented persons and yes even agents already convicted of crimes including child sexual assault are still routinely hired.
Border Patrol Agent Dana Thornhill is a great example of this. Although he had been convicted of at the age of 13 of sexually assaulting a young female child, he was hired by the Border Patrol and even chosen to be the Tucson Sector Chaplain for nearly 20 years before he was arrested and sentenced to 40 years for child molestation.
The rapes of female agents in the Border Patrol academies began with the first class of six female agents in 1975. Only five made it to graduation because Ernestine Lopez, the first Latina agent, was raped by her classmate and the Border Patrol fired her and covered it up as they did my rape.
It took me decades to understand that it wasn't just about the few bad apples. Every single time the Border Patrol is brought to answer for their agents committing sex crimes, child sex crimes, theft, human smuggling, drug smuggling, etc., the response is always that "those agents do not represent the fine men and women of the US Border Patrol." This logically makes sense unless you recognize that it is not just handful of bad agents or apples that are rotten, it is the entire barrel that is rotten. And when the whole barrel itself is rotten, it contaminates even the good ones.
That rotten barrel is upper management. Management is the one who has set up the systems to discourage victims from coming forward. They created the legal and unauthorized Critical Incident Teams that were used to cover up every shooting, pursuit crash death, beating and yes even sexual assaults of some of the agents. They figured out how to use the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to hide the complaints of female agents while moving offending agents to different locations where they could assault and harass other agents. And when agents are discovered to be sexually assaulting other agents, they manage to keep the cops from pressing charges until the agent can either retire and get his full pension, or can resign so that the press must then refer to the arrested agents as a "former Border Patrol agent" even though the crimes were committed while they were still agents. (See Assistant Chief Gustavo Zamora, Chief Tony Barker and Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Armando Gonzalez.)
None of this should come as a surprise to Americans. This is the same agency that lied about taking children and babies from asylum seeking families, who routinely engages in dangerous pursuits that kill innocents, that have designed an entire immigration policy out of sending immigrant families to their deaths only to turn around and call it national security.
I no longer get upset when people say these things to me. I am aware that the media and many who do not question my former agency see me as only a victim trying to get revenge. If I wanted revenge, I would out my rapist. To accuse me of being spiteful, disgruntled or revenge seeking is another way to blame the victim while refusing to look at why these agents continue to be hired and protected.
What I am trying to do is expose a system that enables corrupt and predatory agents to remain hidden. How is it that agents can rape and molest children for years, decades even, as Border Patrol agents and yet the agency is not required to release any information about complaints filed against them during their service? Supervisory Border Patrol Agent John Daly III was found to be a prolific serial rapist during his 20 years as an agent in Tucson. He has many victims in the Tucson area. It is likely he has many victims who were either female agents or migrants, yet the agency refuses to release any complaints made against him during his service. This only serves to protect Daly and the agency.
The agency, its management and Congress are to blame for creating these systemic ways to abuse people and protect their assailants. That is who I blame, and that is what I am working to change.