FILE - In this March 13, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during as he reviews border wall prototypes, in San Diego, as Rodney Scott, the Border Patrol's San Diego sector chief, listens. The Trump administration has named Rodney Scott the new head of the U.S. Border Patrol. Scott will take over for Carla Provost, who is retiring, according to an announcement obtained Friday by The Associated Press from Mark Morgan, acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Scott has been a member of the Border Patrol for 27 years. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Trump administration picks a new leader for US Border Patrol

January 24, 2020 - 10:16 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has named a new head of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Rodney Scott will take over for Carla Provost, who is retiring, according to an announcement obtained Friday by The Associated Press from Mark Morgan, acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Scott has been a member of the Border Patrol for 27 years. He takes over the law enforcement agency at a critical time. The Border Patrol and its 19,000 agents have been under a constant spotlight. Curbing immigration is one of President Donald Trump’s top priorities. The agency has come under fire for crowded stations where migrants were held for long periods as border crossings surged and the immigration system clogged at all ends.

Border agents pleaded for help, but it wasn't until last summer, when reports of squalid conditions and surging numbers of detainees and children dying were published, that Congress authorized additional funding to increase capacity.

Over the budget year that ended Sept. 30, there were 859,510 apprehensions by Border Patrol, plus 110,000 encounters of people who tried to enter the country legally but were deemed inadmissible. There were nearly 1 million crossings from the early 2000s, but those were mostly single men from Mexico who were easily returned, not families from Central America who require much more care.

The numbers have since declined precipitously, in part because of a policy that began last year forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico instead of the U.S. More than 50,000 people have been returned over the border.

Morgan said Scott is the absolute “embodiment of the U.S. Border Patrol’s motto, ‘Honor First.'"

“I am confident that under his leadership, the men and women of the Border Patrol will be well served, the laws of this nation will be enforced, and our borders will be secured,” Morgan said.

Scott, who was raised in Nogales, Arizona, where his father commuted to work at a Mexican factory, demonstrates ease before television cameras and with journalists. He'll relocate to Washington to head the agency.

He has spent much of a his career in San Diego, joining the agency when the area was by far the busiest corridor for illegal crossings and agents were badly overmatched. He began shortly before the Clinton administration launched Operation Gatekeeper to dramatically increase enforcement in San Diego. Illegal crossings plummeted, but critics note that the effort pushed traffic to remote parts of California and Arizona, where thousands of people have died in heat.

San Diego was also where wall construction began in the 1990s, which shaped Scott’s belief that barriers work.

“It wasn’t, ‘Do it in San Diego and stop,’” he told the AP in an interview last year. “It was, ‘Let’s prove what works and then let’s copy in on the southwest border so we can improve security for the whole United States.”

When Scott was elevated to San Diego sector chief in December 2017, he spoke at length at his promotion ceremony about San Diego’s evolution before and after Gatekeeper. He shared the same story, in abbreviated form, with Trump on live television when the Republican president toured border wall prototypes in March 2018. Trump himself often cites San Diego as a model of what he hopes to achieve across the border.

Provost was the first female leader of the Border agency. She had years of experience and helped modernize the agency's use of force manual, vastly changing how agents used force and were held accountable for it.

She managed the Border Patrol through the growing crisis at the Southern border, defending her agents and attempting to showcase their law enforcement work, rescues and humanitarian help even as criticism grew.

She slammed as “completely inappropriate” a closed Facebook group with thousands of members that mocked migrants and lawmakers. Dozens of agents were investigated, and some were disciplined. Some lawmakers called for her to resign after news reports surfaced that she had been a brief member years earlier, though there was no indication she knew about the inflammatory posts.

Provost, whose roots are in small-town Kansas, will retire at the end of the month.

She wrote to agents in a farewell note on Thursday that she initially thought the Border Patrol would be a stepping stone to other jobs in federal law enforcement.

“I entered on duty in Douglas, Arizona, having only seen it as a dot on a map that looked much closer to Tucson than it actually was,” she wrote. “After one year, I knew this was where I was meant to be.”

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Spagat reported from San Diego.

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