President Biden on Friday named a new Border Patrol chief as US immigration policies came under renewed scrutiny after the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction that allowed authorities to expel the most migrants for more than three years.
Jason Owens, who served the Border Patrol for more than 20 years, was most recently the head of the Del Rio division in Texas, which manages one of the busiest areas for illegal crossings. He succeeds Raul Ortiz, who will 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 declined. Though numbers have dropped in the weeks since Title 42 was lifted in May, officials expect the number of crossings to rise again this summer as thousands of migrants make their way across South and Central America with the intention to travel to the United States.
As the head of the Del Rio division, Mr. Owens has devoted much of his time to preparing for and responding to these types of influxes. He will also have to contend with legal challenges to the Biden administration’s new border policies, designed to deter people from crossing into the United States illegally.
The Biden administration said the court challenges could undermine its efforts to address border crossings. There have been record levels of illegal migration to the southern border during the Biden administration, sometimes overwhelming resources and drawing Republican attacks that the president is weak on border security.
In a statement on Friday, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, homeland security secretary, described 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,” Mayorkas said.
The Border Patrol is a 99-year-old agency tasked with protecting 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 largely represents pro-Republican rank and file operatives, is a strong supporter of former President Donald J. Trump and has come to blows with the Biden administration for ending some of Trump’s border policies.
Owens’ tenure in Del Rio began after a migration spike there in 2021, when most Haitian migrants who entered the United States illegally ransacked resources at the border. The response, which included mounted officers, was widely criticized after images of what appeared to be an officer using his lasso as a whip went viral.
An internal investigation found that Border Patrol officers used « unnecessary » force, but found no evidence to corroborate allegations by migrants and others that officers used the reins of horses to whip migrants.
Still, the incident, when 15,000 migrants passed through in just a few days, remained a low point for Biden’s time in office. It was also a reminder of the criticism the Border Patrol has endured over the years for its treatment of migrants.