The Department of Homeland Security does not have “operational control” of the border, the top Border Patrol agent told Congress Wednesday, contradicting the words of his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Chief Raul Ortiz was prodded on the issue at a hearing in Pharr, Texas, by Rep. Mark Green, who asked bluntly if he had operational control.
“No sir,” Chief Ortiz responded.
Mr. Green, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, then played a video of Mr. Mayorkas answering the same question in previous testimony and saying “yes, we do.”
“It’s either ignorance, which is unacceptable, or it’s lying,” Mr. Green said.
Under federal law, the government is required to achieve operational control, which is defined as the prevention of all unlawful entries into the U.S.
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Supporters say the current administration has fallen far short of the goal.
Critics say it’s impossible to achieve.
After the hearing, Homeland Security pushed back on Mr. Green’s comparison between Chief Ortiz and Mr. Mayorkas, saying the secretary has always acknowledged that under the definition written into law, “this country has never had operational control.”
In testimony last year, Mr. Mayorkas said “a layer of reasonableness must be applied” to the definition. He described a definition of control based not on outcome but on process and resources, saying he was “surging” people and support to the border.
Mr. Mayorkas has also said the border is “secure.”
Asked for his evaluation, Chief Ortiz delivered a different assessment.
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Chief Ortiz said he’s seeing a problem at the northern border in one sector, where illegal immigrants are using Canada as an entry point. Along the southwest border, where there are nine sectors, he characterized five as problematic.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Chief Ortiz was also prodded over President Biden’s decision to halt construction on hundreds of miles of border wall that had been on the books at the end of the Trump administration.
Rep. Josh Brecheen, Oklahoma Republican, asked if the chief disagreed with that decision.
“Yes, sir,” the chief replied.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the incorrect location of the hearing. It is in Pharr, Texas.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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