The head of the U.S. Border Patrol is retiring after more than three decades with the agency and after having helped oversee policy changes this month to curb irregular crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border after the end of Title 42 pandemic restrictions.
Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, called Chief Raul Ortiz a "true leader" in a statement announcing Ortiz’s retirement.
"He has numerous accolades and awards from his tenure in the Border Patrol, but the highest compliment we can bestow on him is that he is a great agent," Miller said. "I want to congratulate Chief Ortiz on his retirement after more than three decades of service to our country. I look forward to seeing him out on the water, fishing from his boat, as he enters this next and well-deserved chapter.”
It is not yet clear who will replace Ortiz, who said his last day would be June 30 in a note to staff members Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
“I leave at ease, knowing we have a tremendous uniformed and professional workforce, strong relationships with our union partners, and outstanding leaders who will continue to tirelessly advocate for you each day,” Ortiz said in the note, according to the AP. NBC News has not seen the note and was unable to immediately verify the reporting.
The Border Patrol did not immediately respond to an overnight request for comment.
Ortiz became the 25th chief of the Border Patrol on Aug. 15, 2021. His predecessor, Rodney Scott, who embraced restrictive immigration policies ushered in during the Trump administration, retired after the Biden administration asked him to step down.
Ortiz led the Border Patrol through a large part of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Title 42 emergency health restrictions, which began in March 2020 during the Trump administration, allowing agents to swiftly turn migrants away from the U.S. border.
Ortiz also helped roll out new restrictions this month to discourage migrants from crossing the border without authorization while opening up other legal pathways to enter the U.S. after the end of pandemic restrictions.
Despite predictions of an influx of arrivals at the border after Title 42 ended May 11, the number of migrant encounters with U.S. border agents drop in the days after it expired.
Shelter operators and workers have said that many migrants were aware they risked facing five-year bans from the U.S. if they were deported under an existing rule called Title 8, so, they said, many were waiting to get official U.S. asylum appointments via cellphone rather than trying to cross the border without authorization.
In the lead-up to lifting pandemic restrictions, Ortiz estimated that 60,000 to 65,000 migrants were in northern Mexico waiting to enter the U.S.
“We are not in a position where we can ATD everyone,” he said, referring to Alternatives to Detention, the program that allows the authorities to track migrants released into the country, but he said, “I would like to.”
Ortiz began his career with the Border Patrol in May 1991 with the agency's San Diego Sector, according to a profile on the CBP's website.
Before he joined the Border Patrol, he served in the Army’s 8th Infantry Division in Baumholder, Germany, and he attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwest Texas Junior College, studying political science and criminal justice, the profile says.
He was given two Meritorious Honor Awards from the State Department, the Certificate of Achievement from the state of Texas and the Superior Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Department’s third-highest civilian honor.