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TOP STORY: Breaking into the boys club

Breaking into the boys club
Breaking into the boys club

The 22 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special response teams (SRT) nationwide comprise an elite group of law enforcement professionals whose primary task is serving warrants under hazardous conditions.

The SRT also goes undercover to dismantle drug trafficking organizations, assists after tragedies, such as Hurricane Katrina, and their work is often grueling and thankless.

Due to its highly physical demands, it would be fair to say that SRT is a boys club. That is, with the exception of Michelle Liles – the sole female special agent in all of SRT.

"I feel like I can’t help it but to stand out," Liles explained. "You have to be careful and try to do everything right. I feel like I’m more closely watched because I am the only woman in SRT, so I always want to do my best."

This 50-year-old mother, who has been with ICE since 2003, and immigration since 1996 says that she stays in shape by running, competing in triathlons, mud and obstacle races, boot camps, and strength workouts. 

Liles, with the Dallas SRT for six years, said that when she found out that ICE would have an SRT she was immediately interested and, after giving it some thought, she decided to begin training.

Liles said that she was excited to become part of a group that made high risk arrests. "When ICE adopted SRT I thought, 'I want to be a part of that,’" she explained.

Liles has participated in a number of high-risk search and arrest warrants, been involved with long-distance protection details and she was assigned to protect the airspace around the Super Bowl in a Black Hawk helicopter in Dallas in 2011.

Although there are challenges, Liles said that she loves her job and that she hopes more women will be inspired to join an SRT after hearing her story. 

"I think working as a federal agent is such a good job, and maybe a lot of women don’t know how interesting and rewarding it can be," she said. "I wish more women would think about doing the type of tactical work that I do too. You have to be willing to work very hard. It takes a certain amount of perseverance and resilience in order to make it happen, but it is possible." 

Liles said that "if more women saw other women doing it, then it might encourage a new generation to get out there and do it themselves."

Watch Liles' personal story about her SRT journey in the latest Faces of ICE video.