Border chief asks House panel to boost migrant processing
WASHINGTON — U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz told House Republicans on Wednesday that his agency needs more technology and resources, as the number of migrants arriving at the southwest border “places tremendous strain” on the system.
Testifying at the House Homeland Security Committee’s field hearing in south Texas — which committee Democrats boycotted — Ortiz said that the current flow of migrants to the U.S-Mexico border “represents challenges, and in some areas, a crisis situation.”
“Now, unlike in previous surges, we are seeing traffic including large groups, spread across multiple locations, instead of just one or two specific sectors,” Ortiz said. “This places tremendous strain on Border Patrol resources and our operational posture.”
The Border Patrol chief, who has served in leadership roles at the agency under both the Obama and Trump administrations, specifically requested more funds to hire employees who focus on processing migrants into the country.
The U.S. has seen record-high levels of migration in the last year, though the number of migrants encountered has dipped in January and February.
He said the border agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, previously rested on a “three-legged stool” that focused on investments in personnel, infrastructure and technology.
But changing conditions globally have made more emphasis on processing, a fourth element, “critical,” Ortiz said at the hearing. Ortiz also called for more Border Patrol agents to be hired.
“Back in 2012, I had 21,370 Border Patrol agents. Right now, I have 19,016. My requirement is 22,000 Border Patrol agents. Until I can get there, I’m going to require assistance from other agencies,” Ortiz said. “But right now, for me, my priority is doing everything I can to add more personnel to my ranks, so we can make sure that Border Patrol agents are out there doing that job.”
Ortiz indicated he would also support reinstating Trump-era immigration restrictions, including a policy that required migrants to wait in Mexico for decisions in their U.S. asylum cases. He said the department’s inability to return migrants to certain countries that have strained relations with the U.S., including Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, has “been a challenge for us.”
“All of the tools DHS has at its disposal would allow us to do a better job managing this border,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz’s remarks, made while testifying alongside Steven W. Cagan, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigations arm, came days after the White House released its fiscal 2024 budget request to fund DHS and other agencies.
The request included about $15.7 million in net discretionary funds for Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency that houses U.S. Border Patrol, a decrease from the $16.6 million enacted this current fiscal year.
The request included funds for CBP to hire an additional 350 Border Patrol agents and for CBP and ICE to add a total of 460 processing assistants, according to a summary provided by the White House. It also included $535 million to finance border security technology at and in between the ports of entry, the summary stated.