border-patrol

Another day, another woman embarking on a breastfeeding-related battle. Sophia Cruz, a former Border Patrol agent in southern New Mexico, is alleging that she was fired from the Border Patrol because she had a baby and wanted to continue to breastfeed.

After Cruz had a baby in 2012, she continued to work for the Border Patrol, but she was fired in April 2013, allegedly for failing and refusing to take a test to keep her firearm certification current. Cruz says she was instructed by her doctors not to wear a bulletproof vest for extended periods of time, because it could hinder lactation. She also says that her body shape changed considerably after pregnancy and that the Border Patrol made no effort to fit her with a new vest. According to news station KOB in Albuquerque, “Cruz’s doctor also told the agency, repeatedly, that she should work light duty, avoid altercations and night shifts.”

Cruz wrote a letter requesting to be placed on light duty, but she received a letter back in January 2013 that said “We need you back on full duty.” Cruz says that her supervisors in the Border Patrol kept saying that Cruz’s doctor was only making “recommendations.” The Border Patrol has a program in place to support lactation and lactating mothers, dubbed the Lactation Support Program. It allows “reasonable break time” for lactating mothers for up to one year after they give birth.

But Cruz also says that she wasn’t given the adequate space and time she needed to pump her breastmilk. So why didn’t Cruz’s superiors follow the rules as laid out in the LSP? Curious, I Googled for a good half hour to try to find some legitimate info on the LSP, but I couldn’t find any in-depth descriptions of the program itself, or of what the rules for lactating border patrol agents might be. I guess that’s info only for those within the agency?

I currently live in New Mexico. For three years, I lived in southern New Mexico, which has a much larger Border Patrol presence. I never once saw a female Border Patrol agent, not around town, not at a checkpoint. Of course, much of the work that the Border Patrol does is actually out on the border, not at places where someone like me might see them, so that doesn’t mean there aren’t quite a few female agents. Still, the percentage of female border patrol agents is falling; a 2012 estimate put them at just 5% of the entire force. So even with the Lactation Support Program in place, it doesn’t surprise me that the US Border Patrol isn’t exactly a welcoming workplace for mothers, especially those who are lactating. Cruz’s attorney, Ray Martinez, says, “I think the issue was that they always approached this as Agent Cruz wanted special treatment.” He has since presented the case to an arbitrator.

The Border Patrol issued a statement in regards to Cruz’s case:

“Customs and Border Protection is dedicated to the health and well-being of all of its employees and is constantly looking for programs and initiatives that positively impact their work environment. The Lactation Support Program is one such program that was designed to enhance the quality of work life for employees who are nursing mothers. CBP understands the stress and challenges of having a new baby and is concerned for the health and well-being of all employees by providing needed worksite assistance. Pre-designated areas are provided for employees needing accommodations and employees are responsible for providing their own equipment and maintaining the cleanliness of the lactation rooms. Full-time and part-time CBP employees are eligible to participate in the program. CBP fully supports the Lactation Program which was enacted January 25, 2011.”

Cruz says she isn’t suing for money, just to get her job back and to ensure that the agency will actually abide by the rules of the LSP program. I certainly hope she gets the outcome she wants. By all appearances, she was a dedicated Border Patrol employee who is also a dedicated mom. Should she be penalized for her personal choice to continue to breastfeed, especially since the agency itself ostensibly supports breastfeeding mothers? Cases like Cruz’s (as well as the horrifying one of Bobbi Bockoras) continue to prove just how far our culture needs to go in supporting lactating women.

Photo: Shutterstock