In a career built on protecting the borders, few women can survive the outdoor hustle and even fewer climb to the top.
One of the few is Carmen Qualia, the Assistant Chief for the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
“I’ve received 2 DHS Secretary awards and 2 CBP Commissioner Awards,” said Qualia.
When she was 29, Qualia decided to leave her job as a private investigator and join the U.S. Border Patrol.
“When I was offered the job, they said, ‘you’re going to Del Rio, Texas’ and I was like, ‘What ? Where is that?’ So I pulled out a map,” and Qualia said the rest is history.
The Massachusetts native quickly rose up the ranks in Texas patrolling the border, then landing a promotion in Washington D.C., even changing the way immigration law works.
“We applied a criminal consequence to illegal entries between ports of entry and we also looked to facilitate their immediate removal following their criminal prosecution,” said Qualia.
She was promoted to Deputy Patrol Agent in Charge in Casa Grande in 2012, responsible for hundreds of Arizona agents.
“At the time, we were the busiest station in the country for narcotics and also for apprehensions,” said Qualia.
But being a leader when it got tough is nothing new for her.
Earlier this year, she was chosen as the lead of the busiest processing center in the nation, right in the middle of the biggest immigration crisis our country has ever seen.
“It was a 24/7 job, it didn’t shut off and that wasn’t just me, that was all the agents.”
Qualia and her team managed close to 50 visits by nearly 400 members of Congress in the Rio Grande Valley.
The area had not seen numbers that high of visits or apprehensions in over a decade.
“We have to do the job that the American public has entrusted us to do. So when we keep getting beat up, we try to ignore it,” said Qualia.
But problem solving went beyond just the arrests and the processing.
“When I got pregnant with my first son, the Border Patrol didn’t have a policy on what to do when you are pregnant.”
She remembers the day she walked into her supervisor’s office and told him she was going to be a mom.
“I’m going to need another assignment and he was shocked,” remembers Qualia, “He said, ”What do you mean you’re pregnant?!”
She, along with a team of female agents, pushed for a maternity policy and daycare to help other women who would face her same situation and it worked.
“Now, the agency has child care assistance.”
Her career hasn’t hit a wall, hence her newest assignment, managing the new border wall construction in the Valley.
“Going back 21 years ago, we didn’t have these types of barriers, we didn’t have the detection capabilities we have right now. Being that agent that asked for that equipment, it’s amazing to see it actually come to life,” said Qualia.
Whether she’s managing the busiest processing facility in the country, or finalizing touches on the border wall, she says the key to success is never losing sight of why you started and what’s important.
“Own it, move forward, brush it off and take the next step, don’t be afraid to be on the skinny branch,” said Qualia, “I am just amazed every day on what these agents are doing, especially the younger agents and I want to be part of it.”