President Biden named a new Border Patrol chief on Friday as U.S. immigration policies have come under renewed scrutiny following the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction that allowed the authorities to expel most migrants for more than three years.
Jason Owens, who has served in the Border Patrol for more than 20 years, was most recently the leader of the Del Rio division in Texas, which handles one of the busiest areas for illegal crossings. He succeeds Raul Ortiz, who is set to retire at the end of the month after serving 32 years in the Border Patrol.
Mr. Owens takes over at a time when illegal crossings have decreased. Although the numbers have gone down in the weeks since Title 42 was lifted in May, officials expect the number of crossings to rise again this summer, because they are aware of thousands of migrants who are now making their way through South and Central America with plans to go to the United States.
As the chief of the Del Rio division, Mr. Owens focused much of his time on preparing for and responding to these kinds of influxes. He also will have to contend with legal challenges to new Biden administration border policies, which are designed to deter people from crossing into the United States illegally.
The Biden administration has said the court challenges may undermine its efforts to deal with border crossings. There have been record levels of illegal migration at the southern border during the Biden administration, at times overwhelming resources and drawing Republican attacks that the president is weak on border security.
In a statement on Friday, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary, described Mr. Owens as “talented” and “selfless.”
“I am inspired by his commitment to the mission, and am grateful to him for his continued service in this new leadership role,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
The Border Patrol is a 99-year-old agency charged with securing the country’s borders with Canada and Mexico. Democrats have long pushed for more transparency at the Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection.
The Border Patrol union, which represents largely pro-Republican rank-and-file agents, is a strong supporter of former President Donald J. Trump and has assailed the Biden administration for ending some of Mr. Trump’s border policies.
Mr. Owens’s tenure in Del Rio began after a spike in migration there in 2021, when mostly Haitian migrants who crossed into the United States illegally overwhelmed the resources at the border. The response, which included agents on horses, was broadly criticized after images of what appeared to be an agent using his lariat as a whip went viral.
An internal investigation found that Border Patrol agents used “unnecessary” force but found no evidence to corroborate allegations from migrants and others that agents used horse reins to whip migrants.
Still, the incident, when 15,000 migrants crossed over the period of a few days, has remained a low point for Mr. Biden’s time in office. It was also a reminder of the criticism the Border Patrol has weathered over the years for its treatment of migrants.
Eileen Sullivan is a Washington correspondent covering the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, she worked at the Associated Press where she won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. @esullivannyt
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