Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas defended the Biden administration’s handling of the increased number of encounters and apprehensions at the southern border and reduced interior enforcement in a congressional hearing Wednesday.
Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee criticized the Biden administration for releasing illegal migrants into the U.S. and cutting Immigration and Customs Enforcement official’s interior enforcement abilities.
“We continue to see the irregular migration of unaccompanied children, but we continue in our success of managing that flow, moving those children more rapidly to HHS [Health and Human Services] shelters that are properly equipped to address the needs of unaccompanied children,” Mayorkas said. Biden officials are overhauling the process to get unaccompanied migrant minors out of federal custody and matched with sponsors in the U.S., according to Mayorkas.
Customs and Border Protection officials apprehended over 178,000 migrants at the southern border in April, according to the agency. Most migrants encountered at the border are rapidly expelled under Trump-era public health order Title 42 that the Biden administration plans to keep in place along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayorkas said.
“Are there no consequences for illegally crossing the border at this point because frankly, it appears that President Biden’s message to one and all is that the U.S. has no limits to whom can come because the administration will not enforce any of its immigration laws,” Republican Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann asked Mayorkas.
“Is that the message, that this country will not enforce its immigration laws?” Fleischmann asked.
Mayorkas replied, “No, it is not. 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 many years ago.”
Mayorkas added that national security, public safety and border security are top priorities of the Biden administration.
Republican Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo described the increasing number of migrants arriving at the southern border as an “invasion” of single adult men and unaccompanied children and families who turn themselves in to law enforcement officials.
“It looks like you rolled out a big welcome mat that says ‘send us your kids’ and that is criminal,” Palazzo 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 around our country, these people desperate in these countries are going to continue to take that risk.”
Mayorkas disagreed with Palazzo’s claims and reiterated that most migrants are expelled under Title 42 or placed into immigration proceedings where they can legally apply for relief or be subject to removal.
“It is not an invasion, people are not coming in without regular order, they are being placed in immigration proceedings, they have the ability to make a claim as the law provides to an asylum officer, to an immigration judge and the courts of the United States,” Mayorkas added.