In back-to-back hearings, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas moved from attack to defense Wednesday, saying the department was preparing to deal with rising immigration levels and warning of tougher consequences for those who cross the border illegally again and again.
Mayorkas, facing criticism from Republicans in two hearings, said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was preparing to reopen the asylum system largely banned under Title 42, the border policy initially launched by the Trump administration.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered Title 42 to be lifted on May 23, and the administration faced a political storm over the issue, with Republicans seizing the border as a midterm issue, and some weak Democrats lobbying the White House. reverse path.
“We expect immigration levels to increase as smugglers seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants,” Mayorkas said in his testimony.
We will continue to enforce our immigration laws. After Section 42 is lifted, non-citizens will be processed under Section 8, which states that individuals who cross the border without legal authorization will be processed for removal, and if they cannot establish a legal basis to remain in the United States, they will be removed immediately, repeating the line at the hearings. Before both the House Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Homeland Security Committee.
Biden administration Tuesday Put A more detailed look at her plan to respond to the end of Title 42.
Some of that is largely logistical: increasing housing, medical care, and transportation resources to the border as more individuals can process asylum claims and beginning to deport those who have no legal basis to remain in the United States.
Describing the deportations as one of the main pillars of the plan, Mayorcas said DHS “will employ our powers to implement these deportations as quickly as possible.”
But the plan also includes coordinating with states and non-profit organizations, targeting smuggling organizations and ramping up programs that seek to stem migration within Central America.
Both Democrats and the administration have highlighted concerns about the influx at the border — even noting that Section 42 is in direct conflict with the Asylum Act, which provides the right to a hearing for such claims.
“Although this authority is legally built to mitigate public health risks, it cannot be denied that it has also helped [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] “Manage borders by reducing the number of people that need to be addressed,” said Representative Lucille Roypal Allard (D-CA), chair of the appropriations subcommittee where Mallorcas appeared.
But that is not a sufficient reason from a legal point of view to continue this. It will conflict with the due process rights of immigrants.”
DHS said in March it was preparing for three levels of potential spring immigration, including that daily border crossings could reach 18,000 per day, a record.
“There is no doubt if we encounter 18,000 people in one day which will seriously strain our capabilities. I just want to be clear on this,” Mallorcas said.
New Republicans from a partisan trip to the border argued that lifting Section 42 could harm border security and that giving people their legal right to seek asylum from harm would encourage more immigration.
“If this tool were to disappear, it could potentially have a profound impact on border security operations,” Representative Chuck Fleishman (R-Ten.) said of Title 42.
“We cannot manage our way out of this crisis with more capacity to address or increase the capacity of NGOs to meet humanitarian needs in the short term,” he said. “Many of the immigrants our clients encounter receive a notice to appear and are sent on their way inside the United States to await a court date, often years into the future. It just encourages more people to come.”
In his second appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee, the Republicans asked Mallorca fewer questions, but several showed the secretary monologues.
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), the committee’s former chair, choked when he told Mallorcas that his disappointment with his job performance had been difficult to convey after the two had worked so well together under the Obama administration.
“I must say, sir,” said McCall, “with all due respect, I am disappointed.”
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) spent 4½ minutes trying to get Mallorcas to say he did a bad job managing the border.
Representative Michael Guest (R-MAS.) accused Mallorcas of being a liar, lamented conditions at the border and said that during a recent trip there border agents said they felt abandoned.
After his line of questioning, committee chair Benny Thompson (Democrat) reminded members that “fitness is the order of the day.”
“I don’t ask anyone questions,” he said, but calling Mallorca a liar was “unemployed”.
Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) also attended Mallorcas’ defense, accusing the Republicans of politics and theatrics.
“Border politics is so easy, right? You hold on to grievances, you intimidate Americans, you demonize men and women who leave everything behind, carry nothing, go where they don’t know, make enemies, really shoot Americans. It’s really easy to demonize.” This issue and its armament; it is much more difficult to solve, he said.
The hearing may be just a glimpse of what Mayorcas might face tomorrow at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, as senior member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) outlines a strategy for his impeachment.
In some cases, Mallorcas appeared to have missed opportunities to defend management or score messaging points.
A Republican-led lawsuit has registered a temporary restraining order that appears to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from implementing its plan to prepare for an increase in the limits related to Section 42. The full text of the order has not yet been released.
But when Fleischmann asked him whether the lawsuit from Republican-led states would hold back the Department of Homeland Security — something experts expect it to be — Mayorcas did not directly answer the question.
He also spoke about a question from Roybal-Allard asking if he agreed with Title 42, and spoke about the CDC’s order rather than attacking the policy.
But he also effectively dismissed claims by Representative Dan Bishop (RN.C) that Americans can be “murdered, raped, and killed” by immigrants entering the country.
Mayorkas cited an administrative directive to focus on deporting perpetrators of serious crimes.
“We are taking a much tougher stance on criminals who have entered this country illegally and the data shows that we are more focused on threats to public safety, the real threat to the public safety of the homeland, than the previous administration was and in fact we removed more criminals in one year than the administration did previous,” he said.
He also cited data from those expelled across the border under Trump’s Remain in Mexico program — noting that 1,500 people were killed, raped, tortured, or victims of other serious crimes after they were returned.
Mallorcas was also left to defend Biden’s decision to end other Trump policies, including ending construction of Trump’s border wall.
But Republicans wanted answers about how the administration would deal with the remaining $2.5 billion earmarked for the wall that had yet to be spent.
The Department of Homeland Security has made it clear that some of the money will be used to clean up construction sites where the wall is only partially built and poses a safety risk. They also plan to mitigate the environmental damage caused by construction. But it is not clear that these projects will drain the money completely.
“We are well aware of our responsibility to spend the money that has been earmarked for the wall, and we are analyzing how to do it more effectively while respecting the president’s commitment,” Mayorcas said in response to a question from Representative Kay. Granger (Texas).
“We are committed to spending this money in a way that enhances safety and security.”