The Biden administration has forced out the head of the U.S. Border Patrol, Rodney Scott, clearing a path for a leadership overhaul at an agency strained by a 20-year high in illegal border crossings, and whose top officials were broadly sympathetic to President Donald Trump.
Scott’s departure was widely anticipated, with several of his current and former colleagues surprised he remained in the post long after President Biden’s inauguration. During last year’s presidential campaign, Scott appeared several times alongside Trump, eagerly defending his hard-line policies, leading some colleagues to privately express concern that Scott’s enthusiasm occasionally veered into partisanship.
In a post on Facebook, Scott said he would remain in his role for roughly 60 more days but had not decided if he will leave the Border Patrol or accept a reassignment. Deputy chief Raul Ortiz will replace him in the top job on an interim basis, according to a Department of Homeland Security official with knowledge of the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection took more than 180,000 migrants into custody in May, the highest one-month total in two decades. Scott, along with other senior officials at Border Patrol, has chafed at Biden’s reversal of Trump policies they viewed as effective, according to current and former colleagues who described the private conversations.
Current and former colleagues say Scott provided the Biden administration a steady hand in recent months, despite his frustrations. He maintained a good relationship with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and helped navigate an especially trying period in February and March when the Border Patrol was left caring for unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied teens and children because Health and Human Services didn’t have shelter capacity for them.
Former Border Patrol chief Ronald Vitiello said Scott’s departure is likely to deepen worries among officials as well as rank-and-file agents that the agency is heading into a period of post-Trump limbo and slumping morale.
“Unfortunately, Border Patrol will go through yet another period guessing who the leadership team will be,” Vitiello said. “That’s unfortunate, and a distraction that’s unnecessary at this time.”
The Biden administration has nominated Tucson police chief Chris Magnus, a figure associated with the law enforcement reform movement, to lead CBP, which includes the U.S. Border Patrol.
Mayorkas has spoken of wanting to bring cultural change to the Border Patrol, while also praising its agents and leaders for their handling of the migrant influx this spring.
CBP officials did not respond to questions about Scott’s removal.
Border Patrol chiefs have typically been promoted from within the agency and been well-versed in its insider culture of rituals and lore. That culture fell under increased scrutiny after the exposure of a private Facebook group in 2019 where agents causally engaged in bigoted and sexist speech.
As Border Patrol chief, Scott was widely viewed as an old-school figure steeped in the agency’s traditions. Tall and fit, with a fondness for aviator sunglasses, he often told stories about working as a patrol agent in San Diego in the 1990s, when hundreds or even thousands of migrants would attempt to cross the border each night.
Scott later worked in Arizona when the deserts south of Tucson became the border’s busiest corridor, and eventually he returned to San Diego, where he was sector chief before his promotion in 2020 to lead the Border Patrol and its nearly 20,000 agents.