DHS chief Mayorkas avoids calling migrants at border a ‘crisis’ when pressed during House hearing
WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas avoided describing the surge of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border as a “crisis” on Wednesday during his first appearance before lawmakers in his new role.
Mayorkas, the first immigrant and first Latino person to lead DHS, was asked by Republican lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee about the situation developing at the southern border, where thousands of children seeking asylum are being detained.
He stopped short of calling the influx of migrants a crisis during his opening statement, but reiterated during the hearing the department faces a “difficult” situation.
However, Republican lawmakers pressed him on the characterization. New York Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the committee, asked Mayorkas that “given the tremendous rise and surge of individuals coming to the border, wouldn’t it be fair to call it a crisis?”
“I’m not spending any time on the language that we use,” Mayorkas responded. “I am spending time on the operational response to the situation at the border.”
Several committee members disagreed with Mayorkas’ description of the situation, and criticized him for not calling it a crisis.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., a former Democratic congressman who switched parties in 2019, called the flow of migrants “staggering.”
“Mr. Secretary, don’t tell me this is not a crisis. It is,” Van Drew continued. “Folks may not want to admit it. They may not want to say we’ve had a radical change in eight weeks, but we have.”
Over the past several weeks, the Biden administration has seen an increase of unaccompanied migrant children to the border and has struggled to quickly move the children from short-term holding facilities to temporary facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Sunday morning, more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children were being held in short-term holding facilities, according to CBS News. Migrant children are supposed to be moved from the short-term facilities within 72 hours. Those facilities are jail-like and are not suited for long-term containment.
The White House, and Mayorkas, including during Wednesday’s hearing, have repeatedly said the border is closed. The administration continues to call on migrants to stop trying to make the dangerous journey to the United States.
On Tuesday, Biden discouraged potential migrants from traveling to the U.S. right now, telling ABC News, “I can say quite clearly: Don’t come.”
“We’re in the process of getting set up. Don’t leave your town or city or community,” he continued.
Mayorkas repeated this message, urging would-be migrants during the hearing not to come until they can “finally fix the immigration system in this country.”
He also insisted the U.S.-Mexico border is secure, and repeated it is “not open.”
Republicans blame Biden for the situation at the border, repeatedly calling it a crisis and saying the administration wrongly rolled back immigration policies enacted by former President Donald Trump.
Mayorkas on Wednesday took aim at Trump, who Democrats also say is to blame for the border situation.
“He cut off lawful means of immigration, dismantled immigration infrastructure and refused to address the underlying cause of migration,” said committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Let me be clear, the Trump administration’s crude, short-sighted policies directly contributed to the situation at the border now.”
Mayorkas shot back at Republicans during the hearing, saying Trump’s “tools of deterrence” at the border were “deplorable and unacceptable.”
“If we want to speak of language, then let me speak of language. I will share with you how I define a crisis,” he said before referencing the Trump administration’s child separation policies. “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 future migration. That, to me, is a humanitarian crisis.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Mayorkas also highlighted more of the administration’s efforts at scaling back policies from the Trump administration, like the “Remain in Mexico” protocols, which sends asylum seekers to Mexico through the duration of their pending cases in the U.S. immigration court system.
He declined to say whether he was surprised by the wave of migrants traveling to the the southern border, and the spike in arrests.
“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.
Thompson called Wednesday’s hearing a focus on the “future” of the DHS in the “wake of the Trump administration’s four years of mismanagement and misuse of the Department.”
The House is also expected to vote on both the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act this week. The bills could help create a pathway to citizenship for millions of individuals living in the U.S. without legal status.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Rebecca Morin
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