Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters)
During a House Appropriations Committee hearing, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday insisted that “the border is closed” and defended the Biden administration’s management of the influx of migrants illegally entering the United States.
Republicans demanded answers from Mayorkas about the relaxed interior enforcement his department has been directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to do, including restricting agents’ ability to arrest and deport the majority of immigrants.
The southern border has experienced a surge in migrant crossings, with over 178,000 people apprehended last month. Border officials have turned away many by invoking Title 42 public-health codes, but many unaccompanied migrant children and family groups have been released into the country.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported it had released 61,312 migrants into the interior since February. They receive either a Notice to Appear at an immigration hearing or an I-385, which expedites migrants out of custody with direction to report to an ICE office.
Republican representative Chuck Fleischmann asked the DHS secretary if the department has any intention of deterring or dis-incentivizing future border crossings by dealing consequences to those who violate the law.
“Frankly, it appears that President Biden’s message to one and all is the U.S. has no limits to whom can come because the administration will not enforce any of its immigration laws — is that the message, that this country will not enforce its immigration laws?” the congressman said.
“No, it’s not,” Mayorkas responded. “The president could not have been clearer in his articulation of this administration’s position nor could I have been clearer and continue to be so, which is the border is closed, and this administration administers and enforces the laws of the United States of America — and that is not only the laws of accountability but also the humanitarian laws that Congress passed years ago.”
ICE has reported a significant decrease in arrests and deportations since the administration issued a directive limiting ICE enforcement authority to only situations of recent border crossers, national-security threats, and “aggravated felons.”
“Enforcement is not a quantitative issue; it is a qualitative one,” Mayorkas said. “The question is as to whom are we dedicating our resources and what will deliver the greatest public-safety results for the American public, and that is what I am focused on.”
He doubled down in stating that the administration’s immigration efforts “speak powerfully to the fact the border is closed and that we enforce the laws that Congress has passed, but we will do so effectively to ensure the greatest impact and outcome from the resources that we have.”
Mayorkas’s statement coincides with the Biden administration’s refusal Tuesday to allow 12 congressional Republicans entry into an El Paso, Texas, border facility housing data on drug-cartel crackdowns. The U.S.–Mexico border experienced a surge in drug-smuggler crossings in March, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent stationed at the El Paso location told Fox News.
While Mayorkas indicated that the Biden administration is confident in and proud of its handling of the border crisis, Republicans in Congress have blasted the rollback of Trump-era restrictions and relaxed enforcement under his successor. Some border officials have expressed frustration with the dramatic policy change to the point of considering early retirement from U.S. Border and Customs Protection.
During the hearing, Republican representative Steven Palazzo claimed an “invasion” is ongoing at the border that the Biden administration is encouraging.
“It looks like you rolled out a big welcome mat that says ‘send us your kids,’ and that is criminal,” he said. “Because as long as they know if they get to our border we’re going to take them and turn them into American citizens and let them roam free [in] our country, people desperate in those countries are going to continue to take that risk.”
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