(DEL RIO, Texas) – During his first one-on-one interview since this week when he was named the next head of the U.S. Border Protection Agency, Raul Ortiz outlined his leadership vision for a federal law enforcement agency that continues to face challenges and controversy.
The new boss is not planning any drastic changes, he said, but his appointment signals a critical change in leadership at a time when the Biden administration is trying to reverse the previous administration’s course on immigration enforcement policies.
When asked about internal tensions between career agents and the new administration, Ortiz acknowledged differences in ideas and approaches but did not call it a problem.
“I think with any transition there will always be some dynamic associated with that transition where people try to get to know each other and get to know the mission and try to make changes or adjustments,” Ortiz said.
The new boss spoke to ABC News on the banks of the Rio Grande in his hometown of Del Rio, Texas. Ortiz was head of the Del Rio sector in 2019 before being promoted to deputy head of the agency. As a career agent with extensive experience at the border and abroad, Ortiz led missions in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he trained and supported the Afghan government in border security.
When he takes over in August, he will bring his almost 30 years of experience to a uniquely challenging environment at today’s border. The von Biden government continues to deal with the enforcement of the immigration law while ensuring that vital humanitarian protection is in place.
Ortiz replaces Chief Rodney Scott, who was appointed to the position during the Trump administration and was recently ousted from his role under the new administration. Scott oversaw the implementation of a controversial public health ordinance called Title 42 soon after taking the lead and supporting Trump’s border wall in February 2020.
Ortiz confirmed that border police are planning to end the rapid deportations or “evictions” carried out under the “Title 42” order, which was established as a necessary response to combat COVID-19. Immigrant advocates have condemned the practice because of the limits it places on humanitarian protection. Axios initially reported that the logs would expire by August.
The next chief said he believed Title 42 was one of the factors driving families to make repeated attempts to cross. The evictions happen so quickly, Ortiz admitted, that many simply try again to make the dangerous crossing, sometimes across the vast Rio Grande or in the middle of the desert. The high transfer rate continues to strain the resources of the Border Patrol. As more agents are in charge of processing, fewer are at the forefront.
“Relapse is certainly something we focus on, but it’s not the only thing we focus on, either,” Ortiz told ABC News. “We are also aware of the fact that there is a population out there that we have not been able to arrest and I want to make sure we have enough border guards to control these areas and reduce that number as much as possible.” We can it possibly. “
But he also emphasized the consequences associated with the repeal of the health ordinance. More than 12,000 agents and employees are infected or exposed to COVID-19, more than half of the 22,000 employees.
“Of course there is a risk with the suspension of Title 42,” said Ortiz. “We not only have to ensure their safety, but also our safety and the communities we represent and in which we live.”
Urged by the way Title 42 restricts migrants’ opportunities to assert humanitarian claims, Ortiz admitted so, but also emphasized the opportunities that migrants have to escape from dangerous circumstances.
“Yes, I can see that,” he said. “But I also acknowledge that there are many more agencies and organizations in this environment that are talking to the migrant groups we come into contact with. So there are certainly many opportunities for a migrant to file a legitimate asylum application. “
Another change for border patrols under the new administration is to move away from providing security infrastructure, including anything that resembles a wall, and instead focus on increasing the speed and efficiency of migrant handling.
“We have to get better at processing people,” said Ortiz. “We have to get faster at processing people. We have to be quicker when it comes to referring these people to the other agencies. “
Border wall projects in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas and southern California are completing, Ortiz said. The crews will also be working on repairing a flood control system at the Texas site and addressing some land erosion created at the California site.
“I can guarantee you that we will continue to advocate access roads for agents, the technology, we need sensors underground, because the cartels will build tunnels.”
Ortiz is on board with the Biden government’s plan to halt the migration crisis before it reaches the border. He said he hoped to see the problem not just as a border protection problem but as a challenge for the entire government.
“There’s a lot to do, and it can’t just be on the shoulders of the Department of Homeland Security. There are other agencies that have a responsibility here, ”he said.
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