Top Republicans demanded answers Friday over what they said was an effort to punish a senior Border Patrol official who has been critical of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
Hours after he delivered testimony to Congress last month, Gregory Bovino, chief of the El Centro sector in southeastern California, was pulled off his regular duties and given a desk job at Customs and Border Protection’s headquarters in Washington, according to the chairs of the House Oversight and Accountability and Homeland Security committees.
The lawmakers said that was “suspicious timing” and they demanded that CBP provide documents to justify the move.
They even warned that the personnel decision could be considered illegal obstruction of Congress.
“Any retaliation against witnesses who cooperate with congressional inquiries will not be tolerated, especially when that retaliation may have been committed by government officials,” Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Mark Green of Tennessee said.
CBP vehemently denied the allegation, calling it categorically false.
“This temporary personnel assignment is entirely unrelated to any Congressional testimony or appearance, and was in process prior to the Chief’s transcribed interview,” the agency said in a statement.
Chief Bovino was first called to testify at a public hearing of the House Oversight Committee early this year, alongside other sector chiefs. The chairmen said CBP blocked that, and according to a whistleblower, the reason was that the chief’s prepared testimony irked higher-ups, “so much so that he was verbally reprimanded by headquarters officials.”
Mr. Comer, Kentucky Republican, then requested the chief sit for a transcribed interview with his committee.
That took place on June 12.
“The whistleblower describes that temporary assignment as one of no certain mission, no articulable purpose, and without any timeline of completion. The whistleblower further alleges that this practice is consistent with how CBP officials have dealt with employees who wish to leave the agency, by placing maximum pressure on them to relocate, retire or resign,” the chairmen said in a letter demanding answers.
In its response Friday, CBP said Chief Bovino was reassigned to headquarters before, in 2021, and his subordinates “did an excellent job” handling the sector in his absence.
CBP also said the Border Patrol is seeing a big upheaval, with the departure of the overall national chief and installment of a new one, which led to shuffling in various sector jobs.