The chief of the U.S. Border Patrol told Fox News in an exclusive interview that the now-doomed Senate border bill contained both improvements to existing policy and negative points, but should have been considered a fair compromise.
Chief Jason Owens told “The Story” he offered thanks to bill co-authors Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., saying the Border Patrol cannot succeed in its mission without congressional cooperation.
“And, as long as there’s no action coming out of Congress, we’re languishing in the same situation. So I don’t think there’s anybody that says that the bill has to have everything that we need in order for us to accept [it] – that’s why we have compromise,” Owens said.
“There are definitely aspects of that bill that I liked for the agency. And there are aspects of it that, of course, I didn’t.”
Critics like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pointed to a provision directing litigation against the bill to be filed in District of Columbia courts instead of in Texas, New Mexico or the other border states where challenges may have originated from. Other conservatives took issue with what they characterized as a daily average threshold of 5,000 migrants before emergency powers could be activated to shutter the border completely.
Sinema, however, told Fox News that there has instead been “real misunderstanding” over the emergency powers element critiqued on the right.
When asked whether the bill would have brought the U.S. closer to “operational control” of the Mexican border, Owens replied that in his 28 years with the agency, there has never been a time he would have declared the boundary fully secure.
Owens was chosen by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to succeed Acting Chief Raul Ortiz in summer 2023.
He had previously led the busy Del Rio Sector, and previously oversaw the Houlton Sector which largely spans the international border between Maine and New Brunswick.
“We need more people. We need more agents on the line. They need more force multipliers in the way of technology and equipment infrastructure that doesn’t just help them do their job better, it helps keep them safe,” Owens added, citing provisions in the bill that would have increased the number of Border Patrol agents on staff.
“I am disappointed. And I would tell [Congress], don’t stop: Keep working together and come to a consensus that helps us keep this country safe.”
He stressed that the Border Patrol’s job is not to process asylum seekers, and that without proper staffing and other shortcomings, agents are pulled off the line to handle these otherwise secondary duties.
“While we’re busy doing this, the cartels are taking full advantage of it somewhere else along the border to bring in who knows what and who knows who,” Owens said. “These are the types of things like fentanyl, like other hard narcotics and hardened criminals that do represent a danger to our community.”
“So as long as we’re stuck having to deal with a migrant influx, we cannot be out on patrol.”
In response to the key issue of the high proportion of single adult males illegally crossing or applying for asylum, Owens later said that if a bill were to provide statutory authority to remand captured migrants to custody until removal adjudication, it would assuage the current problem.