The head of U.S. Border Patrol will testify at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing next week in McAllen, Texas on the ongoing crisis at the southern border, Republicans on the committee announced Thursday.
Chief Raul Ortiz will be one of the witnesses at the House committee’s first field hearing on Wednesday. The hearing is being held “to examine the direct link between President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas’ reckless border policies and the unprecedented crisis at our Southwest border.”
It is one of a number of hearings and visits being held at the border itself, and is in line with GOP promises to hold hearings at the border itself rather than just in Washington D.C. Republicans on the committee recently held a “boot camp” in El Paso, Texas to help inform lawmakers about the crisis at the border and to shape future legislation.
Lawmakers have said that the in-person hearings will allow those in D.C. to hear directly from those affected first-hand by the ongoing migrant crisis, which saw more than 1.7 million migrant encounters in FY 2021 and more than 2.3 million in FY 2022. FY 2023 is on track to outpace those numbers.
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“Over the course of two years and a record number of illegal encounters on the Southwest border, Democrats in Washington refused to listen to the communities on the frontlines of this unprecedented crisis, which have been hit hardest by this administration’s reckless border policies,” Chairman Mark Green said in a statement.
The Biden administration has said it inherited a “broken” immigration system and a hemisphere-wide crisis that it is dealing with by focusing on “root causes” in Central America, by increasing funding at the border, and by opening legal asylum pathways. They have called on Republicans to back funding and a day one immigration reform package that also includes the opening up of legal migration and also a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
However, Republicans have pushed back and blamed the crisis on the policies of the administration — which rolled back Trump-era policies and reduced interior enforcement. Republicans say that the policies of the administration have encouraged and fueled the crisis, while some have raised the possibility of impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“This crisis sits squarely on the shoulders of Secretary Mayorkas, as he has failed to uphold his duties as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and has continued to lie to the American people regarding his operational control of the border,” Green said. “But accountability is coming. The Homeland Security Committee is leaving the Beltway and heading to the border in order to hear firsthand testimony on the devastating impacts of Mayorkas’ dereliction of duty and to properly address this crisis as the single-most immediate threat to our homeland security.”
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Ortiz has been in his role since 2021 and took over an agency that had already been dogged by low morale amid the ongoing crisis and widespread dissatisfaction among agents with the administration’s handling of the crisis.
In early 2022 he was seen rallying agents in front of Secretary Mayorkas at a muster when some of those agents expressed their frustration about the policies of the administration.
“I get it,” Ortiz said. “You come to work, you’re frustrated. You’re upset because you didn’t get the desired outcome that you want. Doesn’t mean you give up.”
“We’re not,” one agent responded.
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“I know you’re not,” Ortiz replied. “That’s why I’m saying, we don’t give up. We stay focused, we continue to do the job and the mission that we signed up for. We all signed up for it, we all raised our hand.”
In January, Fox News reported about internal emails amid the 2021 “Whipgate” controversy, where agents were falsely accused — including by President Biden — of whipping migrants.
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In those emails, Ortiz was seen expressing his frustration about the failure by the administration to highlight the work his agents were doing or the abuse they were being subjected to by violent migrants.
“This horse business is awfully negative but there are great efforts occurring and we aren’t highlighting any of them,” he said in a furious email. “Everyday we are providing lifesaving efforts to migrants under the bridge.”
“Our agents are being assaulted and we aren’t saying a word,” Ortiz said.
The hearing comes after the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing in Yuma, Arizona last month on the border crisis.