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SAN DIEGO, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The U.S. Border Patrol is launching a recruitment effort to hire more women to work along the U.S. border with Mexico, in part because of a rise in the number of women being apprehended, a Border Patrol spokesman said Monday.
The number of women apprehended at California's San Diego border with Mexico has increased 20 percent in the last year, according to Border Patrol statistics. Nationwide, that number jumped 173 percent between fiscal year 2012 and 2014, according to spokesman Timothy Hamill.
But only 5 percent of border patrol agents are female, he said.
"In most law enforcement agencies the percentage of women has topped out at 20 percent to 25 percent," said Stanford University Professor David Sklansky. "Five percent is appalling."
Hamill wouldn't say whether the arrival of more than 100,000 Central American refugees, including more than 45,000 unaccompanied minors, in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas since 2013 is driving the spike in females being apprehended.
Women make up about 16 percent of most federal law enforcement agencies, Hamill said. Women comprise about 18 percent of customs officers but accounted for just 5 percent of the Border Patrol's armed enforcement officers in 2012, according to an internal report.
"Law enforcement tends to have the same problems that the military has in making women feel valued and welcome," Sklansky said. "A lot of law enforcement agencies have a macho ethos that can make it harder for women to feel like they belong."
Border Patrol Agent Monica Slack said she was treated well once she was on board with the agency.
"It's not a boy's club," Slack said. "The requirements are equal for everyone and, once you put on the uniform, we're all the same."
Patrol agents' starting pay is between $39,000 and $44,400 a year, and can reach $70,000 in five years - not including overtime pay, and generous benefits that include a retirement plan.
Agent Melissa Pena said that the training academy - 55 days long - was tough.
"We are treated as equals. We don't get modified push-ups and running times, and that adds to the respect we have for each other as equals," she said. "Every woman that signs up is a strong-minded woman who will be supported as an agent and a woman." (Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Eric Walsh)