Newly-selected Deputy Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, Raul Ortiz, joined the agency when there were only 5,000 agents; now he’s about to help take the reigns of the agency as second in command, leading over 22,000.
Ortiz said that his many years in the field protecting the front lines, and growing up in a border community will help him continue to champion all the agents putting their lives on the line to secure the border.
Ortiz was born in Waco, but moved to Del Rio when he was seven-years-old. He said his father was from the border city, and grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods, called San Felipe.
It was here that a young Ortiz learned an important life lesson.
“My dad used to joke with us all the time, that if we didn’t behave, he was going to send us to work out in the fields like he did, so we would learn the value and what it mean to work hard,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz said he had a “short-lived” college career before joining the U.S. Army, following in the path of his parents and grandparents.
When he got out of the Army, Ortiz then found his way to the Border Patrol.
“Once I got in, I knew that that's what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
He started in the early ‘90s in San Diego and said that was the busiest place in the country, but Border Patrol was still small with only 5,000 agents.
Ortiz was soon promoted within the agency, on a fast-track to leadership.
“It's almost like the stars have aligned,” said Ortiz.
And, now nearly 29 years later, Ortiz was selected as the Deputy Chief of the Border Patrol, and recently was in the spotlight as a special guest of President Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump at the State of the Union.
“I didn't want to be in the limelight all the time, but I also recognize that if I don't tell the story, it may be told through somebody else's eyes, and they may get it wrong,” said Ortiz.
That has been part of his mission as Ortiz rose through the ranks of the agency, making sure the true tale of what’s really happening on the border is told.
“I think what a lot of people don't really understand is that agents are willing to put their life on the line to make sure somebody else makes it home to a family. And, we do that with very little regard sometimes for our own safety, because we just know what's the right thing to do,” he said.
Ortiz said he’s humbled to be chosen as a top leader of the agency.
“I think I'm a pretty good representative of the Border Patrol, you know, a big part of our workforce is veterans. I'm a veteran. Most of our Border Patrol agents come from border communities or rural communities. I grew up here in Del Rio, Texas,” said Ortiz. “Our leaders start at the bottom and they work their way up to the top, and that's exactly what I feel like I've done in this outfit. And, I think that I am an example of who we are as an organization.”
A responsibility that Ortiz doesn’t take lightly.
"I'm going to learn everything I can from our team in Washington, D.C., and then be able to maybe go to Congress, talk to the President, talk to others and let them know exactly what's happening and how they can help support and improve the conditions that we have out here because there's still an awful lot of work to be done," said Ortiz.
He said he’s going to advocate for agents in Washington, including fighting for more resources.
“When we were apprehending five or six hundred people a day, I mean, you get tired, you get worn out,” said Ortiz. “You want to look around say, ‘where's that relief?’. From a leadership perspective, I want to be able to come out here and tell you that we're going to fight.”
Ortiz said he knows the job of an agent can be dangerous and wants the nation’s leadership to understand what agents are experiencing on the front lines.
“I also want to make sure our officers know that at any given moment, they can be up against cartels and criminal organizations that are out there trying to do them harm, and I want to make sure they have the protection and the resources to be able to not only safeguard themselves but safeguard these communities,” said Ortiz.
He said he will continue being a champion for agents across the nation.
“No helicopter, no piece of technology, nothing is going to impact or be able to make that last arrest. It that agent, it's that last 50 feet, that's actually going to make all the difference in the world. I haven't forgotten that,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz said he will miss his home along the border, and his family who still lives there, but feels he can still be an inspiration to those living in border communities.
“If I can be an example for a kid that's going to school right now and is thinking that there's very little hope because I'm growing up in a border community, I hope I'm an example of how wrong they are,” said Ortiz. “Just because you grew up in a border community, just because you live in a small town, just because you start at the bottom of an organization, doesn't mean you can't rise to the highest levels of that organization and then have influence or impact.”
Ortiz said he will continue his duties in the Del Rio Sector, working with Doyle Amidon, who will take over as the Interim Chief Patrol Agent of the Del Rio Sector.
Ortiz will report to his new role as Deputy Chief of Border Patrol on March 1st.