San Diego

San Diego Border Patrol Chief Reflects on Tenure Before Leaving to Lead National Agency

Before he officially becomes the highest Border Patrol agent in the nation, he agreed to an interview on Friday with NBC 7

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San Diego's longtime chief of Border Patrol just cleared out his desk. Come Monday, his new desk will be in Washington D.C.

Chief Rodney Scott will now oversee the entire U.S. Border Patrol agency.

Scott says his heart belongs in the field, not behind a desk. But this is one desk job he couldn't turn down.

While leaving San Diego - where he has spent nearly three decades of his career - is bittersweet, Scott says he's excited to get to Washington.

His first order of business: fix what he calls a major image problem for the agency.

"We have not always been that open and transparent,” Scott said.

Scott admits the agency has failed at transparency in the past - something he says fostered a negative perception of border agents. He says that changes now.

“There's been a lot of policies and restrictions on us where we couldn't tell our story,” Scott said. “I saw the negative side of that because if we don't tell our story, someone else will."

He's proud of his willingness to take hard questions in San Diego - and he plans to keep taking questions in D.C. But make no mistake, Scott doesn't just field questions from reporters, he is unapologetic about defending border agents.

NBC 7's Alexis Rivas spoke to Chief Rodney Scott about his tenure here in San Diego.

He didn't hold back when NBC 7 asked him to reflect on his particularly dark time during his tenure: then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order enforcing the separation of families at the border.

“Seeing families all of a sudden coming across, seeing how smugglers treated those families. Seeing the looks on their faces when they’re going to be prosecuted - I’m not going to water any of that down," recalled Scott. “That was a very hard time, but what was almost worse was watching people on this side of the border just jump to conclusions and villainize Border Patrol agents for simply doing their job.”

It's one of several controversies Scott weathered while leading Border Patrol in San Diego.

One of the stories to drop about the border last year is a story uncovered by the NBC 7 Investigates team.

NBC 7 made national headlines when it reported on a list maintained by Border Patrol and Homeland Security - names those agencies used to monitor folks like activists, journalists, attorneys and members of the clergy.

“There was never a 'secret’ list," responded Scott. “There was a list. There was a list that was shared, that list had nothing to do with their occupation or what they did."

Scott said Border Patrol based that list off connections to potential security threats, not of people's day jobs.

Despite public outcry, neither agency has said they plan to stop the surveillance.

It appears Scott is already playing defense before he even sits down at his new desk in Washington.

Just this week, Congress questioned his participation in a lewd and xenophobic Facebook group comprised of thousands of border agents. Lawmakers called for his predecessor's resignation, over her involvement in that same group.

Scott admits he's a member, but defends the group - saying the perception is all wrong – and calling it a necessary outlet

"I think it's very, very wrong to paint with a broad brush all the other agents that use this as a place to talk about work and ask for advice,” said Scott. “It's almost like saying you’re in a giant room with 8,000 people and you're responsible for a conversation in the far-left corner."

The security detail that escorted NBC 7 and other media outlets to meet with Scott talked fondly of Scott, referring to him as an “agent’s agent.”

After the interview with Scott concluded, those same agents in the detail asked that we photograph them alongside their chief one last time before he moved to the East Coast.

We asked Scott why he thinks he was chosen as chief.

He said it is his willingness to work with and debate those he fiercely disagrees with - yet still gets along with at the end of the day - is a skill set that likely made him stand out - a skill he will no doubt flex in Washington.

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