The head of the U.S. Border Patrol testified that the size of his agency is nearly 20 percent smaller than the White House claims.
Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz said he oversees a force of roughly 19,000 during testimony at a special House Homeland Security Committee hearing in McAllen, Texas. That number stands in contrast to statements from the White House, which regularly touts the “more than 23,000” Border Patrol agents deployed to secure the southern border.
Ortiz, who told Congress Wednesday he needs “more officers on the front lines,” said he’d need at least 22,000 agents to secure the out-of-control border crisis. “Right now, I have 19,016. My requirement is 22,000 Border Patrol agents,” Ortiz said. “Until I can get there, I’m going to require assistance from other agencies. 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.”
Neither the White House nor Customs and Border Protection responded to a request for comment on the discrepancy.
Just this month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there are “23,000 federal agents” at the border, crediting the large force for securing the border and falsely claiming it has shut down the flow of fentanyl into the United States. A March 9 White House “fact sheet” said the White House “deployed the most agents ever—more than 23,000—to address the situation at the border.” And in December, Jean-Pierre said Biden “secured historic funding” in order to place “23,000 border security agents at the border … the most that we’ve ever had.”
Border Patrol union spokesman Chris Cabrera in his testimony supported Ortiz’s staff assessment. Current Border Patrol staff levels “hover around 19,300 agents,” with 16,000 of those directly responsible for policing the border, Cabrera said. No Democrats attended the border hearing, claiming Republicans intended to “politicize” the panel.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official told the Washington Free Beacon that the figure put forth by Ortiz is more reliable than what’s been spouted by the White House.
“Congressional testimony goes through rigorous review because you can’t lie to Congress, but the White House can lie to the American people,” the official said. “If Ortiz testified with that number, he’d have gotten those numbers from his staff so it’s likely correct.”
John Modlin, a local Arizona sector chief for U.S. Border Patrol, testified in February that the agency would need at least 22,000 agents in order to handle the flood of migrants at the southern border. There is no indication that the force will grow to this level any time soon, with the size of the force currently shrinking.
Border Patrol suffers from a high attrition rate, which is expected to climb to over 9 percent by 2028, according to Cabrera, the union spokesman.
The lack of staffing has had severe consequences on the agency’s effectiveness. More than 385,000 gotaways—illegal immigrants who were seen by authorities but not detained or deported—have been recorded by Border Patrol this fiscal year alone. For comparison, the number of gotaways recorded by CBP was 128,000 in 2018 and 150,000 in 2019. Some estimate that since Biden took office, the United States has seen 1.3 million gotaways.
Ortiz said his agency has no “operational control” of the southern border, contradicting DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Ortiz said “the cartels control an awful lot of the southern border south of the United States.”
“And I still hold true that we have some policies in place where we need to ensure that the men and women out there investigating these criminal cartels are actually allowed to do their job each and every day,” Ortiz said later.
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