Breastfeeding Border Patrol Agent Fired For Daring To Feed Her Kid

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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

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    • Robotic Arms Dealer

      I bet you mothers are really pumped up for this.

      I’m gonna milk these puns until they dry up

      • aliceblue

        More puns to come? How titillating. Hope that they are all good and that none of them suck.

    • Tina

      Honestly, this sounds like it has nothing to do with lack of support for breastfeeding women. All it sounds like is that Cruz just dropped the ball on all of this as an employee. She should have looked into LSP and what exactly it entails as well as applying for light duty well in advance before returning to work so that she would come back automatically having the lighter duties she could handle. She also should have looked into the requirement for keeping her firearm certification current and informed her employer prior about her choice to breastfeed and had a conversation about how that would affect what duties would be possible for her to take on instead of failing and refusing to take tests.

      Just as you would communicate with your employer about time off or specific medical requirements, arrangements for your choice to breastfeed should always be discussed with an employer beforehand. You wouldn’t just jet off to Hawaii for a week without having confirmed vacation time and then upon return argue that you contract says you get two weeks off so you shouldn’t be fired. Or you can’t show up in a wheelchair or on crutches out of the blue and complain that workplace isn’t accessible or there is insufficient space to move around.

      And at the end of the day, if they need agents on full duty and don’t have space available doing light duty that doesn’t require her to wear her bulletproof vest (although they should have fitted her for another if she agreed to wear it), then so be it. It’s Border Patrol for god’s sake. There are certain specific physical requirements for certain jobs that cannot be compromised and if you can’t meet them too bad, so sad. That’s life. Deal with it.

      • Sirah

        This was my reaction. I felt she was asking for things that go against the nature of the job: no certification, no vest, no altercations (it’s a patrol after all), etc. Also, light duty is something that is requested but not guaranteed. It may be possible that she did not meet the requirements or that someone else needed it more. We need to admit that not all jobs are equally BF-friendly.

      • Sirah

        Also what an inflammatory and inaccurate title.

      • Tina

        Yes! I thought so too. Completely misleading title that does not describe what actually happened.

      • Oz

        From the title, I thought she actually had the baby latched on while she was working or something…

      • Paul White

        Also, there’s a question of if they use sworn officers for clerical/ight work. Not every law enforcement agency does. In Amarillo I know a lot of the jobs that would be considered light duty for APD are held by non-sworn officers (not all but a lot).

    • libraryofbird

      I was interested in the part about the vest, I purchase vests for a police department and 1. They ain’t cheap 2. They aren’t really female friendly, for any female 3. They need to be tight, that’s part of how they work.

      • Paul White

        what do they actually run when purchased by a department? I’m guessing hundreds to about a grand?

      • libraryofbird

        Sorry, I replied earlier but it never showed up (I didn’t realize there was a moderator). Depending on the level of “protection” a vest is rated at your guess is spot on. $700- over $1000.

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    • Bill Murry

      I work for Border Patrol. There is a lactation room in every station. That and the whole vest thing. Really? you get a new one every 5 years. If because of your pregnancy yours doesn’t fit totally right then you buy a new carrier for the armor. Its about $60-$100 at any tactical or cop shop and everyone agent knows where there is one in town.

      Second you qual with you gun 4 times a year or quarterly. You have all quarter to qaul for that quarter. Meaning a 3 months to schedule your self for one. If you have not qualified yet you know you have too soon.
      If you still need to use a lactation room after so long then you are going to have to say something to management to make sure you are assigned something inside. But that’s going to mean no premium pay or AUO because your not out in the field doing patrol work.

      This is not a desk job. Your not going to be in the nicest areas.