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Border official admits US does not have control of the border

By Sarah May
|
March 16, 2023

In what appeared to be a direct contradiction of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas' prior statements on the matter, U.S. Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz declared this week that his agency does not currently have complete operational control of the nation's southern border, as The Hill reports.

Mayorkas' repeated insistence in the past that the border is indeed secure has prompted Republicans in Congress not only to dispute his assessment, but even call for his impeachment.

Republicans question Ortiz

During a Wednesday hearing of the Homeland Security Committee – proceedings only Republican lawmakers opted to attend – Ortiz was asked by Republican panel Chair Mark Green (TN-07) whether the agency he controls has operational control of the border under the statutory definition requiring “the prevention of all unlawful entries.”

Ortiz replied succinctly and said, “Based upon the definition you have, sir, up there, no.”

That answer was particularly significant in light of Mayorkas' own representations that the border is indeed under control, a claim he has made before Congress more than once.

Even before Ortiz contradicted Mayorkas, Republican Reps. Pat Fallon (TX-04) and Andy Biggs (AZ-05) filed articles of impeachment seeking the Secretary's removal for, in their estimation, lying to lawmakers about the situation on the ground at the border.

Mayorkas cites lack of “common definition”

It was just last month that Mayorkas had yet another opportunity to give a public assessment of the state of play at the border, when he sat down for an interview with CNN host Chris Wallace, as the Daily Caller reported at the time.

During their conversation, Wallace asked Mayorkas to answer critics – such as Biggs and Fallon – who allege that the border is anything but secure, and Mayorkas pivoted to argue that there are multiple definitions relevant to the concept, and he made additional references to the country's overriding “values.”

“There is not a common definition of that,” Mayorkas said of operational control at the border. “If one looks at [Congress'] statutory definition, the literal interpretation of the statutory language, if one person successfully evades law enforcement at the border, then we have breached the security of the border.”

The DHS secretary continued, “Our 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,” a place he characterized as a “nation of immigrants.”

“I do believe in infrastructure”

Another topic of questioning faced by Ortiz at this week's hearing concerned his position on the Biden administration's 2021 decision to halt construction of the southern border wall, as Fox News noted.

Ortiz' take on the border wall was sought by Republican Rep. Josh Brecheen (OK-02), who wondered whether the Border Patrol chief was in support of continuing construction that was initiated during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

“I do not believe in a wall from sea to shining sea, but I do believe in infrastructure and barrier systems in concentrated areas, especially urban areas,” Ortiz began.

Ortiz further lamented the fact that Customs and Border Protection officials “tore down perfectly good infrastructure systems in some areas that we should have just left alone,” and cited Del Rio, Texas as one location where that occurred. When asked directly whether he disagreed with Biden's decision to cease construction of 200 miles of wall authorized during the Trump years, Ortiz replied, “Yes, sir.”

Backing his agents

Another noteworthy development from the hearing was when Ortiz used part of his opening statement to the panel to express support for the Border Patrol agents who were wrongly accused by Democrats and members of the Biden administration of using whips against a group of Haitian migrants back in 2021.

Before any formal investigation into the matter occurred, Biden decried the agents' actions as “horrible” and vowed, “those people will pay,” as ABC News reported at the time.

On Wednesday, Ortiz voiced his support for the agents who were ultimately cleared of using whips to control the Haitian migrants, but not before they were subjected to a lengthy investigation and administrative discipline.

“As a former horse patrol agent, I can attest to how vital horse patrol units are in responding to remote and harsh locations. Last year's mass migration event in Del Rio was chaotic. We have over 20,000 people show up in one place in a short period of time,” Ortiz said. “I remain proud of the work of our horse patrol units and what we did in Del Rio,” he added, putting a fine point on one of the many areas of disagreement he appears to have with the current presidential administration.