Mayorkas looks to go on the offensive at the border in a testy audience

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in back-to-back hearings turned from offensive to defensive Wednesday, saying the department was preparing to handle rising levels of migration and warning of harsher consequences for those who cross the border. illegally repeatedly.

Mayorkas, who faced criticism from Republicans on two panels, said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was preparing to reopen the asylum system largely blocked by Title 42, the policy border initially launched by the Trump administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered Title 42 lifted on May 23, and the administration has faced a political storm over the issue, with Republicans seizing the border as a midterm issue and some vulnerable Democrats pushing for the White House to reverse course.

“We expect migration levels to increase as smugglers seek to take advantage and profit from vulnerable migrants,” Mayorkas said in his testimony.

“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws. After Title 42 is lifted, non-citizens will be prosecuted under Title 8, which states that unauthorized border crossers will be prosecuted for removal and, if they cannot establish a legal basis for remain in the United States, they will be removed immediately. of the country,” Mayorkas said, repeating the line in hearings before a House appropriations subcommittee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration presented a more detailed look at its plan to respond to the end of Title 42.

Some of that is largely logistical: increasing housing, health care, and transportation resources to the border, while also increasing the number of staff that can process asylum seekers and begin deportation of those without asylum. a legal basis to remain in the US

Mayorkas called deportations one of the main pillars of the plan and said DHS would be “employing our authorities to carry out those deportations as quickly as possible.”

But the plan also includes coordinating with states and nonprofits, targeting smuggling organizations and increasing programs that seek to stop migration within Central America.

Democrats and the administration highlighted their concern about the influx at the border, even pointing out that Title 42 directly contravenes asylum law, which provides the right to a hearing for such claims.

“Although this authority is legally based on mitigating public health risks, it cannot be denied that it has also helped [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] manage the border by reducing the number of people that require processing,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chair of the appropriations subcommittee where Mayorkas appeared.

“But that is not a legally sufficient reason to continue. And it would be going against the due process legal rights of migrants,” she added.

DHS said in March that it was preparing for three levels of possible spring migration, including that daily border crossings could top 18,000 a day, which would be a record number.

“There is no doubt that if we meet 18,000 people in a single day, that will test our capabilities. I just need to be clear on that,” Mayorkas said.

Republicans fresh from a caucus trip to the border argued that lifting Title 42 could harm border security and that people given the legal right to seek asylum to avoid harm would be encouraged further migration.

“If that tool goes missing, it has the potential to profoundly impact border security operations,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) said of Title 42.

“We cannot come out of this crisis with more processing capacity or increase the capacity of non-governmental organizations to address short-term humanitarian needs,” he said. “Many migrants our agents encounter receive a notice to appear and are sent into the interior of the United States to await a court date, often years in the future. It just encourages more people to come.”

In her second appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee, Republicans asked Mayorkas fewer questions, but several offered monologues about the secretary.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a former chairman of the committee, became emotional and his throat tightened as he told Mayorkas that it was difficult to convey his disappointment in his job performance after the two worked well together under the Obama administration.

“I must say, sir, with all due respect, that I am disappointed,” McCaul said.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) spent four and a half minutes trying to goad Mayorkas into saying he had done a poor job managing the border.

Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) called Mayorkas a liar, lamented conditions at the border and said that during a recent trip there, border agents said they felt abandoned.

After her line of questioning, committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) reminded members that “propriety was the order of the day.”

“I’m not questioning anyone’s questions,” he said, but calling Mayorkas a liar was “out of line.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) also came to Mayorkas’s defense, accusing Republicans of politics and theater.

“Border politics is pretty easy, right? It can pander to grievances, scare Americans, demonize the men and women who left everything behind, carrying nothing and going somewhere they don’t know, make them the enemy, really get Americans fired up. It is very easy to demonize and weaponize that problem; it’s much harder to figure it out,” she said.

The hearing could be just a taste of what Mayorkas may face tomorrow at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, where the ranking member, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), outlined a strategy for questioning him.

In some cases, Mayorkas seemed to miss opportunities to defend the administration or score message points.

A GOP-led lawsuit has won a temporary restraining order that appears to prevent DHS from implementing its plan to prepare for a Title 42-related border surge. The full text of the order has not yet been released.

But when asked by Fleischmann if the lawsuit from the Republican-led states would cripple DHS, which experts hope will be the case, Mayorkas did not directly answer the question.

He also addressed a question from Roybal-Allard about whether he agreed with Title 42, speaking about the CDC order instead of attacking the policy.

But he also effectively rejected Rep. Dan Bishop’s (RN.C.) claims that Americans could be “murdered, raped and murdered” by immigrants entering the country.

Mayorkas pointed to an administrative directive to focus on deporting those who have committed serious crimes.

“We are taking a tougher stance on criminals who have entered this country illegally and the data suggests that we are more focused on the public safety threats, the real threat to the public safety of the homeland, than the previous administration and, accordingly, In fact, we have eliminated the most serious threats. offenders in a year than the previous administration,” he said.

He also pointed to data on those who were 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 being returned.

Mayorkas also stayed on to defend Biden’s decision to end other Trump policies, including ending Trump’s border wall construction.

But Republicans wanted answers about how the administration would handle the remaining $2.5 billion allocated for the wall that has yet to be spent.

DHS has noted that some of the funds will be used to clean up construction sites where the wall is only partially built and poses a safety hazard. They are also planning to mitigate the environmental damage from the construction. But it is not clear that those projects will completely exhaust the funds.

“We are well aware of our responsibility to spend the funds that have been allocated to the wall and we are looking at the most effective way to do so while meeting the President’s commitment,” Mayorkas said in response to a question from Rep. Kay. Granger (R-Texas).

“We are dedicated to spending those funds in a way that improves safety and security.”

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