By Lauren Fox and Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faced off Wednesday with Republican members of Congress in a series of high-profile hearings that put the secretary and the administration’s immigration policies in the spotlight ahead of the midterm elections.
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas took issue with Mayorkas’ assertion that the US-Mexico border was well managed, saying the situation was “out of control.”
“I would have to say that I’ve never seen the border more broken,” McCaul said Wednesday. “It is not under operational control. It is out of control.”
Earlier Wednesday, Mayorkas told lawmakers that the department had “effectively managed” the flow of migrants at the US-Mexico border with the resources at its disposal.
“We inherited a broken and dismantled system that is already under strain. It is not built to manage the current levels and types of migratory flows. Only Congress can fix this,” Mayorkas said at the Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
“Yet, we have effectively managed an unprecedented number of noncitizens seeking to enter the United States and interdicted more drugs and disrupted more smuggling operations than ever before.”
Mayorkas testified Wednesday before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee. On Thursday, he will sit before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearings are part of Mayorkas’ routine efforts to request funding for his department and for Congress to provide oversight.
Border authorities have been facing increasing numbers of migrants at the US-Mexico border. In March, US Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 221,000 migrants, according to agency data. That includes repeat crossers. While officials recognize the strain on the system, Mayorkas stressed they’ve been deploying additional resources to assist with the flow.
The hearings come as the administration is facing increasing criticism from Republicans and some Democrats about its approach to ending a Trump-era pandemic restriction, known as Title 42, on the US-Mexico border. That authority allows border officials to immediately send migrants back to their home country citing a public health emergency. The Biden administration announced in April it was ending the practice on May 23.
McCaul voiced the concerns from many of the GOP about the influx of migrants at the US southern border, arguing that repealing Trump-era policies had contributed to the increased flow. McCaul cited the “remain in Mexico” policy, a program launched under the Trump administration that required non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico until their US immigration court date.
“Don’t rescind what was working,” he said.
Republican Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana echoed McCaul and targeted Mayorkas’ assertion that the border is “effectively managed.”
“How would you identify failure?” Higgins said, later adding that Mayorkas will face impeachment next year if the GOP takes control of Congress.
The Biden administration’s decision over Title 42 has also sparked frustration by some in the President’s own party, with members calling for a delay in the decision and others calling on the administration to deliver a more detailed strategy of how they plan to grapple with a potential increase in immigration once the order is lifted.
“We need an immigration policy we truly do. And 42 should not be done away with until we get an immigration policy or until the CDC basically says we do not have a health crisis. With a health crisis, we can’t take any more chance of people coming undocumented and unchecked. And that’s all. It’s very simple,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Mayorkas sought to quell those concerns hosting a call with members laying out his agency’s plan to stem the flow of migrants at the Southern border.
Earlier in the week, a federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked the administration’s decision to end Title 42. A senior administration official told reporters Tuesday that the administration will comply when the court issues its order and, in the meantime, is preparing for restrictions to end.
According to a Department of Homeland Security memo issued Tuesday, US Customs and Border Protection deployed 600 officers and agents to the US-Mexico border and is expanding its capacity to hold around 18,000 migrants in custody, up from 13,000, among a slew of other measures. The administration, which began offering Covid-19 vaccines to migrants earlier this year, is expanding sites to 24 locations to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by May 23.
The department added that it will administer consequences to migrants who don’t have claims of asylum by removing them, detaining single adults when appropriate, as well as accelerating asylum adjudications.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
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