Biden administration names new chief for the Border Patrol

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The Biden administration on Friday named Jason Owens to be the new chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, an announcement that comes amid a changing-of-the-guard among top border officials whose responsibilities have been eased by a recent drop in illegal crossings.

Owens, a 27-year Border Patrol veteran who is well regarded by rank-and-file agents, served most recently as the chief of the Del Rio, Tex., sector, one of the busiest along the U.S.-Mexico border. On June 30, he will replace retiring chief Raul Ortiz, one of several senior leaders who delayed their departures to help manage the expiration of pandemic-related border policies.

In a statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas praised Owens as “a talented, selfless, and inspiring leader who is dedicated to the Border Patrol’s law enforcement mission, the men and women who fulfill it, and the country that we all serve.”

Illegal crossings along the southwest border soared to record levels during President Biden’s time in office, straining morale in the agency at a time when the Border Patrol has struggled to meet hiring goals and staffing levels have lagged.

Crossings jumped to more than 10,000 per day last month as migrants rushed to enter the United States before the Title 42 pandemic policy lifted on May 11 and tighter enforcement policies took effect.

The Title 42 policy is over. Here’s how it works at the border now.

Predictions of an even larger border surge after the pandemic policy lifted did not materialize, however. Unlawful crossings have dropped 70 percent since May 11, according to the latest enforcement data. That has brought a reprieve to border officials — and the chance for veteran leaders to step down — after months of crisis-mode operations.

DHS officials also announced Friday the retirement of Benjamine “Carry” Huffman, a decorated Border Patrol official who joined the agency in 1985 and has been serving as the acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Huffman will be replaced by Pete R. Flores, a veteran official from CBP’s Office of Field Operations and one of the agency’s most experienced leader of drug interdiction efforts at U.S. ports of entry.

Diane Sabatino, deputy executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, will succeed Flores as the top acting official at the Office of Field Operations, overseeing 31,000 officers and employees, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“I am very grateful for the service of our departing senior leaders, and look forward to what our new executives will accomplish in service of our mission,” Troy Miller, CBP’s acting commissioner, said in a statement.

Before overseeing the Del Rio sector, Owens ran the Border Patrol academy in Artesia, N.M., where he hosted a podcast that addressed training topics as well as some of the controversies and public criticism faced by agents. Owens has also held leadership roles along the northern U.S. border with Canada.

Border agents under Owens’s command responded to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., that resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers in May 2022. The massacre ended when a Border Patrol tactical team killed the shooter, but law enforcement officials were heavily criticized for taking more than an hour to confront him and reach the victims.

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