On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the Biden administration doesn’t “bear responsibility for a broken system,” and demanded that Congress enact legislation to mitigate the illegal immigrant crisis.
“No doubt there is gridlock in Congress. But do you bear responsibility for what is happening at the border with the president himself? It’s called a crisis,” NBC host Kristen Welker asked during an interview with Mayorkas on “Meet the Press.”
“It certainly is a crisis. And we don’t bear responsibility for a broken system. And we’re doing a tremendous amount within that broken system. But fundamentally … Congress is the only one who can fix it,” said Mayorkas, who just last week escaped an impeachment attempt by the GOP-led House of Representatives.
“There is no question that we have a broken system,” he added. “There is no question that we have a challenge, a crisis at the border. And there is no question that Congress needs to fix it. And we’re doing everything we can within that broken system, short of legislation to address what is a not just a challenge for the United States but one throughout our region.”
Since taking the helm at the Department of Homeland Security three years ago, Mayorkas’ leadership has seen the asylum case backlog triple since 2019 and the highest number of migrants on record cross the border illegally in 2023.
Welker pointed to how Mayorkas himself has admitted that more than 85% of migrants crossing the border illegally are being released into the U.S. as they await their court dates.
“Let’s just put impeachment aside for a minute. Why do you deserve to keep your job, Mr. Secretary?” she asked.
“The data that you cite is a powerful example of why we need legislation to fix what everyone agrees is a broken immigration system,” Mayorkas said. “Before the last three years, that case backlog, which is about 3 million cases, has been growing year over year over year. The time between when we encounter an individual at the border and the time of final adjudication of an asylum claim case has been years, five to seven years, for years and years.”
“I remember when I entered the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, we were wrestling with these very same issues. The system has not been fixed for 30 years. A bipartisan group of senators have now presented us with the tools and resources we need – bipartisan group. And yet, Congress killed it before even reading it,” he said.
Mayorkas spoke in reference to a $118 billion supplemental spending agreement that failed to pass in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. While billed as a bipartisan effort, the package included aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as an ambitious border security and immigration package that drew widespread opposition from conservative Republicans in both chambers since its release just days earlier. While the package needed 60 votes to pass, it fell 10 short, with 50 voting yes and 49 voting no.
Welker pressed Mayorkas on why President Biden would not shut down the border immediately – as Republicans have called on him to do – and “just let the courts try to stop him.”
“We have taken executive actions already. We continuously review what options are available to us, but those are always challenged in the courts, and whether or not they see the light of day and actually are able to be operationalized is an open question,” Mayorkas said. “That is why the bipartisan group of senators actually prepared and presented a piece of legislation that would … base it in statute, the ability to close the border for a limited period of time, an extreme measure, and would it would be immune from court challenge because it is statutorily based.”
“If it were done legislatively, no doubt you wouldn’t have these these legal challenges, but isn’t trying to do something better than doing nothing at all? Why doesn’t President Biden try to shut down the border? Are you encouraging him to do that?” Welker continued.
“Well, we have already taken important steps. We certainly haven’t done nothing. I will tell you, we issued a regulation that circumvention of lawful pathways that increased, that actually created a rebuttable presumption of ineligibility for asylum seekers if they did not avail themselves of the lawful pathways that we built. And so we’ve done a tremendous amount. It’s very important to remember we have removed, returned or expelled more individuals in the past three years than the prior administration did in all four.”
Welker then asked if Mayorkas was considering reinstating the Remain in Mexico policy, to which he replied, “First of all, it depends upon Mexico’s agreement. And Mexico has articulated publicly that it will not allow the re-implementation of Remain in Mexico, number one. Number two, it’s been challenged in the courts. And number three, remember something, that Remain in Mexico was implemented in January of 2019. In 2019, there was almost a 100% increase in the number of encounters at our southwest border over 2018.”
Mayorkas is often held to blame by Republicans for the crisis at the southern border, and has been accused of “dereliction of duty” amid hearings from the Republican-led House of Representatives. They have pointed to the rolling back of Trump-era policies, such as border wall construction and Remain in Mexico, and reducing interior enforcement and expanding “catch-and-release.”
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