Border Patrol chief out, as White House grapples with immigration

Border Patrol Chief Rodney S. Scott addresses agents in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, in August, 2020. Scott, who took a harder line on immigration than the Biden administration, was forced out of his job this week. (Photo by Jerry Glaser/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

WASHINGTON – The chief of Border Patrol was forced out this week after just 17 months in the job, a move that critics blasted as a politically motivated decision by the Biden administration.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller said Thursday that Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott has been replaced by Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz. Miller’s announcement thanked Scott for his service, but included no details on the reasons behind the departure.

Critics accused the Biden administration of giving Scott a choice of “three Rs” – reassignment, retirement or resignation – because he disagreed with their border policies.

“The chief asked directly why it was happening and was not provided response other than, ‘We want to go in a different direction,'” said Mark Morgan, who served as acting CBP commissioner during the Trump administration and appointed Scott to the chief’s job.

An angry Morgan called the decision “outrageous” and “devoid of all common sense,” saying that the Biden administration is “ending the 29-year career of a man not for just cause, but rather in the name of politics.”

But Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute said Scott’s decision to “align himself, as the head of border patrol, with the president (Trump) personally” was “uncharacteristic” for someone in a career position, not a political appointment.

“From what I know about Chief Scott, he was more political and partisan in the places that he chose to appear during the Trump years than has typically been the case for Border Patrol chiefs,” said Meissner, director of the institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program.

“I’m simply guessing that that has been part of the reason that he’s been offered the option to resign or be reassigned,” she said.

The move comes at a challenging time for the Biden administration on its handling of immigration issues. Republicans have repeatedly attacked President Joe Biden for what they call a crisis at the border, where the number of migrants apprehended has surged to the highest levels in years.

Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Central America and Mexico earlier this month to meet with leaders there and discuss ways to stop the flow of immigrants at their source. She is also scheduled to visit the border in Texas Friday – just days ahead of next week’s scheduled visit by former President Donald Trump and a delegation of Republican lawmakers.

The Biden administration’s nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to be the next CBP commissioner also appears to have stalled after his name was forwarded to the Senate in April.

One expert accused the Biden administration of targeting career officials who do not agree with its policies.

“It would seem that given all the other changes that this administration has made on immigration policy that they are getting rid of the holdovers from the previous administration who actually wanted to enforce laws,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Calls seeking comment from advocates and from unions representing Border Patrol agents on Scott’s dismissal were not immediately returned Thursday. A CBP official said the only comment from the agency would be Miller’s statement.

That six-paragraph statement included just one short paragraph on Scott and five on the background of Ortiz, who “will assume the role of chief of the Border Patrol.” It did not say whether Ortiz would be an interim or permanent replacement.

Morgan said there is likely “not going to be any difference” in operations of the agency once leadership shifts, but that the transition could take 30 to 60 days.

“It’s still too early to determine whether they’re going to post and do a search for a new chief or if they’re going to make Raul permanent, that’s yet to be determined,” Morgan said.

But he insisted that Scott should not have been forced out in the first place. Scott, whose 29 years in Border Patrol included service under both Republican and Democratic administrations, “epitomizes what we expect and demand from non-political career employees,” Morgan said, which is to do the job regardless of who’s in power.

Alyssa Marksz uh-lih-suh marks (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Alyssa Marksz expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and minors in Spanish and voice performance. Marksz is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington, D.C., this summer.