Border Patrol Chief Ortiz to Retire as Border Crisis Shows No Signs of Letting Up

AP Photo/Eric Gay

The head of the United States Border Patrol is calling it a career. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz announced his retirement from the agency on Tuesday in an agency-wide email to the approximately 20,000 active Border Patrol Agents. Ortiz has headed up the agency tasked with keeping U.S. borders secure for the past two years, a time of record illegal immigration taking place at the southern border. His retirement is effective June 30. In addition to his time with the Border Patrol, Ortiz also cited his time in the U.S. military in his announcement to his fellow agents saying,

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“After a 32-year career spanning multiple Sectors, HQ tours, and overseas assignments in Afghanistan, I have decided to retire from Federal Service on June 30.  I have proudly served in the Armed Forces and across this country and enjoyed every opportunity I have had to work for and on behalf of the American people.”

Ortiz’s tenure as head of the Border Patrol (CBP) has been a curious one. Ortiz took over the top spot at the agency in August of 2021. Fiscal Year 2021 ended in September of that year with illegal immigrant encounters hitting 1.7 million. Since the beginning of FY2022, 1.4 million illegal immigrant encounters have been reported. If illegal immigrant encounters stay on pace, all indications are that FY2023 will meet or surpass FY2022. In September of 2021, Ortiz stood alongside Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a press conference as thousands of Haitian immigrants flooded the border, and declared that the border was “closed.” Mayorkas also stated that he was “surprised” by the influx of Haitian immigrants, calling it, “rather sudden, rather dramatic, rather quick.” But not a consequence of what happens when it is no secret around the world that the border is wide open and is anything but closed.

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Ortiz had also made promises that Haitian, and other immigrants, who had constructed a shantytown-type encampment under the Del Rio International Bridge, would be removed because of their illegal entry into the country. It was later learned that around 2,000 Haitian immigrants were, in fact, returned to Haiti, but roughly 12,000 were released into the country to allegedly pursue claims of asylum. However, in March of this year, he testified at a Homeland Security Committee field hearing that DHS did not have “operational control” over the U.S. southern border. In 2021, he immediately backed up CBP agents who were accused of whipping Haitian immigrants.

Morale among Border Patrol Agents hitting rock bottom did not start with Ortiz’s tenure as head of the agency, but it hasn’t helped. A recent survey was taken of all 57,000 employees of CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE). Only 9,311 responded, but those who did respond painted a pretty grim picture of how they are viewing their job. Many reported feeling overworked and unable to perform their primary duties of law enforcement. Of those surveyed, nine out of 10 reported that they felt their field locations were not properly staffed to handle times of high volume of illegal immigrant encounters. Of CBP agents, seven out of 10 said understaffing was the norm during non-high volume periods, and six out of 10 ICE agents also stated this was occurring. Many of those agents on the front lines say they are often deployed to other duties they describe as “non-law enforcement work.” This leaves their normal stations understaffed. Agents also said that management covers up what is really happening on the ground when top officials visit.

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Raul Ortiz’s predecessor, Rodney Scott, was a proponent of many Trump-era immigration policies, including building the wall. For that support, and other Biden administration directives like using the term “migrant,” instead of “illegal alien,” Scott was shown the door in favor of Ortiz. But with the projected illegal immigration numbers for FY2023 and the ending of Title 42, Ortiz may have decided to get out while the getting is good.

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