WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Friday named U.S. Border Patrol veteran Jason Owens to lead the agency, replacing retiring chief Raul Ortiz at a time of intense political scrutiny over the administration’s immigration policies.
In a statement announcing Owens’ promotion, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “Chief Owens is a talented, selfless, and inspiring leader who is dedicated to the Border Patrol’s law enforcement mission, the men and women who fulfill it, and the country that we all serve.”
“I am inspired by his commitment to the mission, and am grateful to him for his continued service in this new leadership role,” Mayorkas added.
The New York Times reported that Owens has been with the Border Patrol for more than 20 years, most recently as the head of the Del Rio division in Texas.
Del Rio is one of nine sectors along the southern border. The sector stretches 245 miles (395 kilometers) along the Rio Grande River that divides Texas from Mexico. It is staffed by roughly 1,400 Border Patrol agents.
According to his LinkedIn profile, before that Owens served as the head of the Border Patrol’s training academy in New Mexico. His resume also includes numerous stints in other locations along the southern and northern borders.
The Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling the vast stretches of land between the legal border crossings to stop smuggling or illegal migration.
Ortiz said last month in a note to staff that was obtained by The Associated Press that he will leave June 30.
Ortiz managed the Border Patrol and its roughly 20,000 agents through the COVID-19 pandemic and Title 42 emergency health restrictions that began in March 2020 and allowed agents to quickly return migrants over the southern border.
He also oversaw the rollout of new policies on May 11 meant to discourage migrants from crossing illegally while opening up other legal pathways. The number of crossings has dropped, and the border has not seen the high numbers of crossings or chaos anticipated by even President Joe Biden with the end of the restrictions.
But Republicans, who say the Biden administration has done little to deter immigration, are still aiming to make it a key issue this Congress where they’ve been holding repeated hearings that have been harshly critical of the administration and specifically of Mayorkas.