Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday defended the Biden administration's handling of the migrant surge at the southwest border and explained what the government is doing about it.
What You Need To Know
- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a lengthy statement Tuesday explaining the "difficult" situation at the southwest border and what the federal government is doing about it
- The Biden administration has been trying to get a handle on the large number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in recent weeks
- Mayorkas said that the U.S. is on pace to see more migrants at the border than it has in 20 years, but, with limited exceptions, only unaccompanied children are not being expelled
- Mayorkas listed the steps the government is taking to help solve the problem and said the DHS will soon announce measures aimed at reforming the asylum system
In a lengthy statement, Mayorkas characterized the situation as a “difficult” challenge, but said his agency is working around the clock and making progress toward bringing the matter under control.
“Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together,” Mayorkas wrote.
The Biden administration has been trying to get a handle on the large number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in recent weeks, which has given Republicans ammunition to attack the new president’s immigration policies.
While President Joe Biden does not take the hard-line immigration approach of former President Donald Trump, Biden administration officials have repeatedly tried to convey the message to migrants that now is not the time to try to enter the U.S.
Yet Mayorkas said that the U.S. is on pace to see more migrants at the border than it has in 20 years. The Homeland Security chief, however, stressed that, with limited exceptions such as certain "acute vulnerabilities," adults and families are being immediately expelled to Mexico or their home countries, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 rules.
The Biden administration, however, is not sending unaccompanied children back, as the Trump administration had done. Mayorkas said Customs and Border Protection agents are seeing kids as young as 6 and 7 years old.
“They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them,” the DHS chief wrote.
The U.S. government has struggled to find capacity to hold the minors and in some cases is missing the 72-hour deadline for transferring them from the custody of CBP, whose facilities are jail-like holding cells, to Health and Human Services. The government then tries to place the children with sponsors — 80% of the time with a family member — until their asylum case can be heard, Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas noted that the crush of migrants at the border is not unprecedented.
“We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well,” he wrote.
Mayorkas pointed the finger at the Trump administration for what he described as a complete dismantling of the U.S. asylum system.
“The system was gutted, facilities were closed, and they cruelly expelled young children into the hands of traffickers,” he wrote. “We have had to rebuild the entire system, including the policies and procedures required to administer the asylum laws that Congress passed long ago.”
Mayorkas listed the steps the government is taking to help solve the problem.
He said CBP, HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working to create additional facilities to shelter children and families who are processed in the U.S. when Mexico runs out of capacity.
Mayorkas also said Homeland Security will soon introduce new measures aimed at implementing “long-needed systemic reforms” of the asylum system, including shortening the time it takes to adjudicate claims from years to months. And he said joint processing centers are being created with the goal of placing minors in HHS custody immediately after they are encountered by border patrol agents.
The DHS secretary also said the administration is restarting and expanding the Central American Minors program, which allows children to seek asylum without having to take the dangerous journey north to the U.S.-Mexico border. The program was discontinued under Trump.
“As difficult as the border situation is now, we are addressing it,” Mayorkas wrote. “We have acted and we have made progress. We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time. We will get it done. We will do so adhering to the law and our fundamental values.
“I came to this country as an infant, brought by parents who understood the hope and promise of America. Today, young children are arriving at our border with that same hope. We can do this.”