Jason Owens’ biggest challenge as the new head of the US Border Patrol is improving agent morale, immigration experts say.
Border Patrol agents are “overwhelmed,” Andrew Arthur, resident fellow for law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Signal.
“Improving morale among Border Patrol agents” will be Owen’s “biggest challenge,” Arthur said. Those agents, he said, “feel appropriately slighted by the Biden administration.”
“Morale has to be in the tank,” said Simon Hankinson, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation.
Owens takes the helm of the Border Patrol on Friday with the retirement of Chief Raúl Ortiz.
Concerns about morale stem in part from the loss of 17 US Customs and Border Protection employees to suicide in 2022, the most in more than a decade.
Owens also takes over as chief, as encounters with illegal aliens at the southern and northern borders remain historically high compared to numbers before President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
Customs and Border Protection, which includes Border Patrol, reported finding more than 2 million illegal aliens at the US borders since fiscal year 2023 began on Oct. 1. By comparison, in all of fiscal year 2020, the agency said it found 646,822 illegal aliens.
Critics point out that the increase came after Biden appointed Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Border Patrol and CPB.
“Assuming command of the US Border Patrol under the leadership of Secretary Mayorkas will be a thankless task,” Hankinson, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Immigration and Border Security, said of Owens’ arrival. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news outlet.)
Many congressional Republicans have joined Heritage and other conservative organizations in criticizing Mayorkas, arguing that the secretary of Homeland Security has failed to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Clay Higgins, R-La., filed articles of impeachment against Mayorkas.
Border Patrol could always use more resources, Hankinson said, but the problem is not a lack of trucks or staff, but “a deliberate policy by the Biden administration to allow entry of as many illegal immigrants as possible to physically process, and use Agents.” of the Border Patrol as social workers”.
The Biden administration pulled Border Patrol agents from the physical border to process the record number of illegal aliens entering the country, according to Mark Morgan, commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration and now. visiting member on Border Security and Heritage Immigration. Center.
Hankinson said he has witnessed “border agents handing out luggage tags, forming lines, entering data into a phone app and helping inadmissible aliens onto buses.”
“Their role was more like Disney cast members than federal agents,” he said.
Hankinson added that the Biden administration’s policies are likely to hurt morale:
Border Patrol is being hampered in its primary function, keeping aliens and inadmissible goods out, by its own leaders. No new boss can change that. The (Department of Homeland Security) has diverted its resources from deterring and detaining inadmissible aliens to processing and moving them inland. Agents who signed on to defend their country are instead helping illegal aliens get in. They know this is contrary to the laws they were taught to enforce. Morale must be in the tank.
Given the large influx of immigrants at America’s borders, Owens was probably the most apparent choice to replace Ortiz.
Owens most recently served as chief of the Del Rio sector, consistently one of the busiest sections of the southern border.
He joined the Border Patrol in 1996 and has received numerous promotions throughout his tenure. In 2007, he became deputy director of the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington. After multiple transfers and promotions, he was named patrol chief for the Houlton sector, which covers the entire state of Maine.
Owen’s impressive resume indicates he’s equipped to do the job, said Arthur of the Center for Immigration Studies, because “agents want to have one of their own in charge.”
Owens takes the helm of Border Patrol less than two months after the public health measure known in Title 42 expired. The measure had allowed Border Patrol under the Trump administration to quickly remove some illegal immigrants from the southern border during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Title 42 expired on May 11, the Biden administration’s Department of Homeland Security implemented new policies that Mayorkas said would allow illegal aliens to enter the United States through “legal avenues.”
Mayorkas’ reference to “legal avenues” includes the use of a mobile app called CBP One, which allows illegal aliens to make an appointment at a port of entry to apply for asylum.
Since the expiration of Title 42, the Biden administration says, illegal entries between ports of entry along the southwest border have dropped by 70%.
But Morgan said the administration’s reports of “low-key” border encounters are “all smoke and mirrors.”
He said illegal aliens just go to ports of entry and continue to be released into the United States. And recent CPB encounter numbers do not show a dramatic decline in the number of illegal aliens entering the country.
CPB publishes the number of migrant encounters for each month on its website. Encounters by “Border Patrol” refer to encounters between ports of entry; “Office of Field Operations” encounters refer to those at ports of entry.
The official number of border encounters for May shows a slight decrease compared to April in the number of migrants entering between ports of entry, but an increase in those arriving at ports of entry.
Under the Biden administration’s new policies, Heritage’s Morgan said, families and unaccompanied children will not be turned away at the border.
Looking ahead, Arthur said he anticipates the situation on the southern border to be “much worse in the coming months.”
“I think the immigrant population, in response to the latest administration policies, is going to change,” Arthur told The Daily Signal. “We are going to start to see many more family units entering the United States illegally. So, you know, that’s going to be very difficult; dealing with children is always the biggest challenge for Border Patrol.”