The head of the U.S. Border Patrol on Wednesday told lawmakers the agency does not have operational control of the U.S. southern border — as he also said that migration levels were at “crisis” levels in parts of the border.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz was speaking at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in McAllen, Texas and was asked about Chairman Mark Green about Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ prior claims last year that the Department of Homeland Security has operational control of the border.
“Does DHS have operational control of our entire border.”
“No sir,” Ortiz responded.
Green held up a definition of operational control in the U.S. code as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics and other contraband.”
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He then played video of Mayorkas telling Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, last year that DHS does have operational control of the border, and asked Ortiz if he thought Mayorkas was lying.
“About ten years ago, we used operational control as a measuring stick of our effectiveness along the southwest border. My new strategy is geared towards mission advantage,” Ortiz responded.
Green then again referred back to Mayorkas’ remarks.
“You heard the secretary, he said we have operational control,” he said, before pointing to the definition. “That’s the definition.”
Ortiz responded: “Based upon the definition you have sir, up there, no.”
“We don’t have operational control?” Green asked.
“No sir,” Ortiz said.
In his opening statement, Ortiz had praised the Border Patrol agents working underneath him, saying that putting on the uniform “fills me with tremendous pride and it will remain my greatest honor.”
He then explained the challenges facing agents and even used the word “crisis” — a phrase the administration has often rejected when describing the situation at the border – when describing the enormous amounts of migrants that the border has encountered in recent years.
“The migration flow represents challenges and in some areas, a crisis situation,” he said.
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The hearing is being held “to examine the direct link between President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas’ reckless border policies and the unprecedented crisis at our Southwest border” and is one of a number of hearings and visits being held at the border itself after Republicans have promised to hold in-person border hearings.
Democrats had chosen not to attend the hearing, while the White House accused Republicans of playing “partisan games” with the hearing.
Meanwhile, DHS said that the hearing “highlights the vital work the Department of Homeland Security does every day to enforce our laws, secure our border, and combat cartels and smugglers” and pointed to testimony from Ortiz and other witnesses that showed ” new programs, technology, and investments are making a real impact.”
“Despite inheriting a dismantled immigration system and facing unprecedented migration that is affecting nations throughout the Western Hemisphere, this Administration has surged resources to the border, reducing the number of encounters between ports of entry, disrupting more smuggling operations than ever before, and interdicting more drugs in the last two years than had been stopped in the five years prior,” a spokesperson said.
“The Department welcomes input from Congress, and looks forward to working with Members on legislative solutions for our broken immigration system, which Congress has not reformed for more than forty years,” they said.
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Republicans have placed blame on the administration for reversing Trump-era policies and narrowing interior enforcement while expanding “catch-and-release.” The administration has blamed Republicans for failing to approve adequate funding and for failing to pass solutions in Congress including a day one immigration reform bill that was rejected by Republicans due to its inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
Mayorkas recently said in an interview that the goal “is to achieve operational control of the border, to do everything that we can to support our personnel with the resources, the technology, the policies that really advance the security of the border, and do not come at the cost of the values of our country.”
On Wednesday, Ortiz was asked by Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., if the changes in policy by the Biden administration to release migrants into the interior rather than detain and release was the driver of the crisis.
Ortiz responded by saying that “you have to have capacity, and you have to have consequences.” He also said that he had warned as acting chief in 2014 that there was a “policy crisis.”
“And I still hold true that we have some policies in place where we need to ensure that the men and women out there patrolling the border, investigating these criminal cartels are actually allowed to do their job each and every day,” he said.
“And their job is to detain or remove illegal immigrants,” Bishop asked.
“Yes sir,” Ortiz replied.