Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the Biden administration’s handling of the massive surge of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border, pushing back Republicans efforts to get him to concede in calling the border a crisis — despite warning a day ago that figures are on pace to be the highest in 20 years.
During the four-hour hearing, House members on both sides failed to get Mayorkas to reveal any pointed details on plans that both the DHS and the Biden administration have in addressing the surge of illegal migrants at the border. But it did expose the deep political divide on the issue of immigration.
Democrats sought to cast blame on the Trump administration for his restrictionist border policies as they credited the Biden administration for its efforts. Meanwhile, Republicans criticized President Biden in his eagerness to rescind many of his predecessor’s deterrent policies that encouraged a new wave of illegal migrants and unaccompanied children.
Responding to GOP criticism that the U.S. border is effectively open, Mayorkas claimed the “border is secure and the border is not open,” but acknowledged a “surge of individuals attempting to cross the border,” a situation that he called “undoubtedly difficult.”
Mayorkas testified before the House Homeland Security Committee in his first hearing as the DHS Chief where he faced questions about the ongoing surge in migrants crossing the U.S-Mexico border following President Biden’s inauguration and their failures to handle the crisis.
Mayorkas was pressed by nearly all Republican committee members on whether the situation amounted to a crisis, to which he refused to concede.
“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 when asked why he isn’t calling “the tremendous rise and surge of individuals coming to the border” a crisis.
He also declined to say whether he was surprised by the surge of migrants traveling to the border.
“I don’t know that I had any particular expectation one way or the other. I just knew what we needed to do when we confront a situation, and in fact, we are doing it,” Mayorkas said.
Customs and Border Protection (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.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) emphasized that the Biden administration’s messaging was also contributing to the problem, citing both rhetoric combined with the president’s “stroke of a pen” in rescinding Trump’s immigration policy has “created this crisis.”
“Sometimes the tools of deterrence defy values and principles for which we all stand,” Mayorkas said out in response, “One of those tools of deterrence that the Trump administration employed was deplorable and absolutely unacceptable.”
Mayorkas said what he really “define” as a crisis was Trump’s 2018 zero-tolerance policy.
“If we want to speak of language, I will share with you how I define a crisis,” Mayorkas said. “A crisis is when a nation is willing to rip a 9-year-old child out of the hands of his or her parent and separate that family to deter migration. That to me is a humanitarian crisis.”
The DHS Chief also downplayed suspected terrorists sneaking into the country via the border, saying it “is not a new phenomenon,” following CBP confirming to Congress on Tuesday that four people on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist were apprehended since October.
“A known or suspected terrorist — KST is the acronym that we use — individuals who match that profile have tried to cross the border, the land border, have tried to travel by air into the United States not only this year, but last year, the year prior, so on and so forth,” Mayorkas said.
“It is because of our multi-layered security apparatus — the architecture that we have built since the commencement of the Department of Homeland Security — that we are in fact able to identify and apprehend them and ensure that they do not remain in the United States. And so we actually deny them entry based on our intelligence and based on our vetting procedures. That is not a new phenomenon,” he added.
According to the DHS fact sheet, there were 3,755 known or suspected terrorists stopped at the U.S border or at airports in 2017. In 2018, six terror suspects from Yemen and Bangladesh were reportedly detained at the southern border.
The House on Thursday will vote on two immigration bills — the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act this week. The bills would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of individuals already living in the U.S. without legal status