The top U.S. Border Patrol official announced Tuesday he will retire from federal service next month, opening a vacancy in the leadership of an agency charged with managing the record levels of migrant crossings reported along the southern border over the past two years.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, a three-decade veteran of the agency, said he would leave his post at the end of June, according to an internal message he shared with colleagues. Officials at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol's umbrella agency, also confirmed the departure.
Ortiz has led Border Patrol since the summer of 2021, when the previous chief, Rodney Scott, now a vocal critic of the Biden administration's policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, was pushed out. Ortiz had served as deputy Border Patrol chief during the Trump administration.
After his promotion in 2021, Ortiz became a major figure in the government's efforts to address an unprecedented migration crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, where mass displacement in crisis-stricken countries and perceptions of more welcoming U.S. policies fueled record migrant arrivals.
Ortiz had to manage significant dissent and frustration among rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, many of whom disagreed with the Biden administration's move to reverse some Trump-era border controls, including a policy that forced asylum-seekers to wait in squalid Mexican tent camps while the U.S. reviewed their cases.
In a statement Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas noted Ortiz was planning to retire when he was asked to take the helm of Border Patrol in 2021. Convincing Ortiz to postpone his retirement, Mayorkas said, "was among the most important decisions I have made."
"The Border Patrol is stronger, and our nation is more secure, thanks to his leadership. I will miss his candor, our thought partnership, and our friendship," Mayorkas added.
It's unclear who Mayorkas and DHS leadership will tap to replace Ortiz.
With more than 19,000 agents, Border Patrol is charged with intercepting the illicit entry of drugs and migrants along the Mexican and Canadian borders, as well as some coastal sectors, such as south Florida.
But it has been along the U.S.-Mexico border that Border Patrol has faced the most acute challenges in recent years. In fiscal year 2022, Border Patrol recorded 2.2 million migrant apprehensions, an all-time high that surpassed the previous record set in 2021.
Ortiz remained in his post long enough to oversee the discontinuation of the Title 42 pandemic-era border rule, which, for over three years, allowed his agents to cite public health concerns to quickly turn back migrants without processing their asylum claims.
While the number of unlawful border crossings soared to record levels in the days leading up to Title 42's end on May 11, migrant arrivals subsequently plummeted, defying predictions that the policy's end would trigger a massive increase in migration.
Since the end of Title 42, the Biden administration has been increasing formal deportations, which can include a five-year banishment from the U.S. It is also implementing a regulation that renders migrants ineligible for asylum if they cross into the U.S. illegally after not seeking refuge in another country first.
Those measures have been paired with a dramatic expansion in opportunities for migrants to enter the U.S. legally, including through a phone app-powered process for asylum-seekers in Mexico and a program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who have American sponsors.
In his message to employees Tuesday, Ortiz said serving as Border Patrol chief had been "one of the greatest honors and privileges" of his life.
"I leave at ease, knowing we have a tremendous uniformed and professional workforce, strong relationships with our union partners, and outstanding leaders who will continue to tirelessly advocate for you each day," he added.
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