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U.S. doesn't have operational control of border: Border Patrol chief

Mr. Ortiz also said it's a 'tremendous challenge' to 'repatriate' border crossers to their home countries

Published: March 15, 2023 3:22pm

Updated: March 15, 2023 4:45pm

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz told lawmakers on Wednesday that the U.S. border patrol doesn't have operational control of the border.

During a Homeland Security Committee field hearing in McAllen, Texas, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green noted that the formal definition of operational control, according to U.S. law, is "the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics and other contraband."

Ortiz was asked if he thought Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was lying last year when he said the U.S. had operational control of the border.

"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 said.

When asked directly if the U.S. had operational control of the entire U.S.-Mexico border, Ortiz replied, "No, sir."

Ortiz also said the inability to "repatriate" migrants who illegally cross the border back to their home countries has been a "tremendous challenge" during the Biden Administration. 

Green said the State Department has allowed the "return agreements" for migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border to expire rather than renegotiate them.

Green asked Ortiz if those expired agreements have made it harder for law enforcement to send migrants back to their home countries after they cross the border illegally. 

"Our inability to repatriate individuals to certain countries in a tremendous challenge. I would have agree with that," Ortiz said.

Ortiz was asked if he supports reinstating the "Remain in Mexico" policy and extending Title 42 restrictions.

"I support any policy that’s going to allow us to repatriate individuals back to their home country," he said.

"Every policy that allows us to repatriate or reduce the flow of migrants is certainly going to increase our operational effectiveness and our ability to control that border," Ortiz also said.

He also addressed accusations that Border Patrol agents had whipped Haitian migrants in 2021. 

"I remain proud of the work of our horse patrol units and what we did in Del Rio. As the chief of the Border Patrol, I am ultimately responsible for all operational decisions. To that point and as a senior field commander during that response, I accepted and continue to accept full responsibility for the actions taken," Ortiz said.

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