Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will make a visit to the southern border Friday as the Biden administration continues to face intense scrutiny over the spiraling crisis they created that has seen a mounting surge in migrants, especially unaccompanied children crossing the border.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) dropped the news of Mayorkas’ surprise visit along the border in El Paso, Texas, in a Thursday interview with Fox News. Details and timing were not immediately available.
“I’m spending the day tomorrow with Secretary Mayorkas. He’ll be here,” Portman said when asked if he would have the chance to share what he saw on his visit to the border with Mayorkas.
“We’ll be looking at some of the issues including this huge problem with unaccompanied kids coming across the border,” he continued. “Those numbers have increased even more dramatically to the point that right now we have a true crisis in the detention facilities … We’re gonna talk about that tomorrow and we’ll see some of those facilities. And we’ll have a chance to talk about what I saw tonight.”
In addition to Portman and Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Gary Peters (D-MI), two other senators were expected to be part of the delegation as well.
DHS later revealed that Mayorkas will visit the city of El Paso in western Texas and will be joining a group of bipartisan senators. National and local media will be excluded from reporting of the border visit trip.
Mayorkas will be making his second trip as secretary to El Paso, Texas, “to view operations and receive a briefing on the processing, shelter, and transfer of unaccompanied children arriving at our border,” DHS said in the statement.
In the statement, DHS added that the visit would be closed to the press “due to COVID-19 restrictions and privacy concerns.”
The White House, despite pledges of transparency, is also facing growing frustration among reporters and refugee advocates seeking access to the Custom and Border Patrol (CBP) detention facilities in order to assess the living conditions, like they have in years with previous presidents including former Presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush. Reporters have not been allowed inside the facilities and make-shift tents where thousands of families and children have passed through after being apprehended on the border and then transferred to other agency facilities for longer-term holding.
President Biden has been reportedly briefed on the conditions at the southern border and has viewed pictures of the CBP detention facilities, but the White House is declining to make those photos public.
No media nor immigration advocates have so far been granted access to see firsthand the conditions inside CBP or HHS facilities under the Biden Administration.
CBP has stopped offering ride-along for reporters, citing “health concerns” amid the coronavirus pandemic. Any lawmakers and media visiting one of the facilities must lock up his or her phone, camera, and any other recording devices in lockers before entering areas where people are held.
Pictures of children being kept in cramped quarters at CBP facilities under former President Trump provoked outrage and accusations from liberal lawmakers, who are now silent amid the largest migrant surge in decades. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has only tweeted about the border crisis twice since Biden took office, with those tweets being only about a detention center reopening.
This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay – no matter the administration or party,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Feb. 23 in response to a Washington Post story titled “First migrant facility for children opens under Biden.”
Meanwhile, unaccompanied migrant children are arriving at the border at an alarming rate since Biden took office with his administration has been scrambling in crisis mode to find new space for the surge of unaccompanied minors. The White House and even Mayorkas have repeatedly refused to call the burgeoning situation at the border a “crisis.”
Mayorkas testified to Congress in a four-hour hearing with House Homeland Committee Wednesday and defended the Biden administration’s handling of the massive surge of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border while pushing back Republicans efforts to get him to concede in calling the border a crisis — despite warning a day prior that figures are on pace to be the highest in 20 years.
“I’m not spending any time on the language that we use. I am spending time on operational response to the situation at the border,” Mayorkas responded to Rep. John Katko (R-NY), the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee question.
Biden and his administration have told migrants that now is not the time to come to the United States, claiming they are in a process of “getting set up,” a plan for illegals to be able to apply for asylum.
“Yes, I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” Biden warned migrants in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday. “We are in a process of getting set up, and it’s not going to take a whole long time it’s to be able to apply for asylum in place. So don’t leave your town, or city or community.”
Mayorkas reiterated Biden’s message to migrants: Do not come to the United States now.
“It’s do not come because it is not safe to take the journey, it is not safe in a time of pandemic to arrive at the border. Families and single adults are being expelled. Let us build, let us rebuild,” Mayorkas said Thursday morning in an interview with CBS News.
However, Fox News interviewed an illegal migrant who said the surge is “not gonna stop ever.”
“They’re not,” the migrant responded when asked if other illegals are listening to Biden’s message not to come right now to the United States. “Look, if you guys lived in our country, you guys would know that it’s really tough.”
“It’s not gonna stop, ever,” the migrant added when asked about the migrant surge across the border. “I’ll tell you that, it’s not gonna stop.”
CBP is on pace to make more than 130,000 arrests and detentions in this month alone, up from 100,000 reported in February and more than three times the amount for February 2020. DHS currently projects by the end of 2021, there will be 117,000 unaccompanied child migrants crossing the border based on the last two and a half months recording levels that were the highest in the past 15 years.
Out of the 100,000 plus migrants attempting to cross the border last month, nearly 30,000 of them were unaccompanied children with 26,850 were between the ages of 13 to 17, and 2,942 of them are under the age of 12.
14,000 unaccompanied migrant children are now in CBP custody as of Thursday, the latest figure revealed. CBP and DHS administration officials told reporters in a call that 4,500 children under the age of 18 being detained at its holding facilities up and down the 2,000-mile southern border. and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement has 9,562 children in its care as of Wednesday. The new figure of 4,500 is up from last week’s reported figures of 3,200.
House Republicans are calling on Democrats to hold a committee hearing on the crisis at the southern border, arguing the surge could pose risks to national security.
Rep. Matt Gaetz said that the immigration crisis unfolding at the southern border is just the beginning and warned that the surge of migrants will only continue to grow.
“Joe Biden brought us the era of “catch and release.” Now House Democrats want to bring us to the era of “catch, release, and vote.” Gaetz tweeted linking his interview segment he did on Fox News Primetime Thursday evening.
Joe Biden brought us the era of "catch and release."
Now House Democrats want to bring us to the era of "catch, release, and vote." pic.twitter.com/J2g7peSbpN
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) March 18, 2021
Gaetz in a follow-up tweet wrote: “Border walls work. Democrats know it. #BidenBorderCrisis.”