Aug 12, 2021
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Press Conference at U.S.-Mexico Border Transcript
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas held a press conference on the U.S.-Mexico border on August 12, 2021. He gave an update on immigration and border security. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (00:00)
Raul Ortiz, with more than 29 years of service in the United States Border Patrol, Chief Ortiz will become the Chief of the Border Patrol effect of this Saturday. I also wanted to introduce to you Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, the Department of Homeland Security’s Chief Medical Officer.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (00:18)
At the very outset, I want to communicate very clearly that the situation at the border is one of the toughest challenges we face. It is complicated, changing, and involves vulnerable people at a time of a global pandemic. I want to provide information to you, the facts, the challenge we face and why, and our plan to meet the challenge. That is what we do, we confront challenges and we meet them.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (00:51)
I also want to take a few minutes to debunk false information that has been spread. Before I provide the latest numbers, and they reflect an increase in encounters in between the ports of entry, I want to explain who the migrants are, the composition of the migrant population, and the processes we follow.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:14)
First, let me start with the unaccompanied children. As I think all of you know, in the prior administration, Title 42 authority of the Centers for Disease Control was used to expel unaccompanied children, regardless of their age. That is a practice that we discontinued immediately in the Biden administration for humanitarian reasons, because in fact, they are just children, some so very tender of age.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:48)
These children are eligible to make a claim for asylum or to pursue special immigrant juvenile status in court proceedings under our laws. We, in the United States Border Patrol, transfer them to Health and Human Services for their care, custody and control as quickly as possible, to unite them with a parent or legal guardian here in the United States before they make their claim for asylum or their claim for a special immigrant juvenile status.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:26)
You will recall, in March of this year, we experienced tremendous crowding in our Border Patrol stations of unaccompanied children. I said then that it was a challenge for us, that we had a plan to meet that challenge, and that we were executing on that plan and that it would indeed take time. That is what we did, and we cleared the Border Patrol of the overcrowding of the unaccompanied children in execution of our plan. Of course, I should say that of course we have unaccompanied children still in Border Patrol custody, but we are moving them much, much faster than we did in March, and under the 72 hours that is required by the law.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (03:22)
Next, we have the single adults. The single adults, the great majority of single adults are expelled under the Title 42 authority, the public health authority of the Centers for Disease Control. They are processed very quickly, turned around and sent back. If they are not expelled, they are placed into removal proceedings, which are immigration enforcement proceedings. They are prosecuted for removal and are removed unless they make a successful claim for relief and establish that they are entitled to remain in the United States under the laws that Congress has passed.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (04:08)
Finally, the third category of individuals are families, individuals who comprise family units. They are expelled under the Title 42 authority unless we are unable to do so. For example, in certain parts of Mexico, they have no longer any capacity to receive expelled families. In that instance, we place the families in immigration proceedings, in immigration enforcement proceedings, for removal to the United States, and they are removed unless they make a claim for relief under United States law and that claim is ultimately successful.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (04:53)
We are encountering an unprecedented number of migrants in between the ports of entry at our Southern border. A few points. We have seen surges in migration before, we’ve seen them in the past, and migrations surges are not new. Two, and importantly, migrants encountered at our border are expelled or are placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. The rise in encounters of migrants at the Southern border began in April of 2020 last year, but the increase is most certainly sharper over the past several months and greater than in June.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (05:40)
Allow me to share with you the CBP enforcement numbers for July. 212,672 persons were encountered attempting entry along the Southwest border, a 13% increase over June 2021. A majority continue to be single adults, specifically, approximately 52%. This is a 6% decrease from June. 95,788 individuals, more than 45% of July encounters, were processed for expulsion under Title 42. 116,884 individuals were processed under Title 8. Those are removal proceedings, immigration enforcement proceedings, as distinct from Title 42 Public Health authority proceedings under the CDC’s authority. 85,563 single adults, or 78%, were processed for expulsion under Title 42, with 24,880 processed under Title 8. Lastly, 9,948 family unit individuals, or 12%, were processed for expulsion under Title 42 with 73,018 processed under Title 8.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (07:13)
These numbers, and I think this is a very important point, these numbers do not reflect the number of different people who were encountered at the border. The large number of expulsions under Title 42 during the pandemic has contributed to a large number of migrants making multiple border crossing attempts. 27% of encounters in July were individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the past 12 months. The number of unique individuals, if you will, encountered in July 2021 was 154,288.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (07:56)
A total of 845, 307 unique individuals have been encountered year to date during fiscal year 2021, compared to … Let me repeat that number, 845,307 unique individuals, different individuals, have been encountered year to date in fiscal year 2021, as compared to 796,400, 796,400 during the same period in 2019. There are several reasons for the rise in migrant encounters at the Southern border. Worsening conditions of course in the countries of origin, including poverty, a rise in violence, and corruption. Young boys whose lives are threatened if they decline to join a gang, young women who are vulnerable to rape while they walk to school. Tragically, former President Trump slashed our international assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, slashed the resources that we were contributing to address the root causes of irregular migration.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (09:23)
Another reason is the end of the cruel policies of the past administration and the restoration of the rule of laws of this country that Congress has passed, including our asylum laws that provide humanitarian relief. Thirdly, and importantly, is the resurgence of the economy in the United States and the gleam of the American promise once again.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (09:52)
We are facing a serious challenge at our Southern border and the challenges of course made more acute and more difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also-
Alejandro Mayorkas: (10:03)
… because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also been made more difficult because of the fact that the prior administration dismantled our asylum system. Nevertheless, we meet challenges. We meet difficult ones. We do so with our heroic workforce, our expertise, our plans, and our execution of our plans. Here again, just as we did with the challenge of unaccompanied children in March of this year, we have a plan. We are executing our plan, and that takes time. Our plan has four pivotal parts: addressing the root causes, rebuilding, and building safe, legal, and orderly pathways for migrants to apply for relief under our laws without having to take the perilous journey north, improving security, management, processing, and other measures at our border, and attacking the smugglers. We’ve done a great deal, and we need to do more.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (11:19)
We are doing it with our partners throughout the federal government in an all-of-government effort directed by our president, and we are partnering with law enforcement, community-based organizations, and many others. Let me speak of the actions that we have taken, or at least some of the actions that we have taken in each part of our plan. First, in addressing the root causes, the effort that our vice president is leading. On her trip to Guatemala Vice President Harris announced that USAID and the US International Development Finance Corporation will provide up to $48 million in US government resources to advance the economic security opportunity in Guatemala. On July 29th, the US government launched our strategy to address the root causes of migration in Central America, which guides our whole-of-government effort to improve the security, governance, human rights, and economic conditions in the region. USAID already as launched a series of new initiatives to promote good governance and expand opportunities that will enable the people of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to build better futures in their home countries.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (12:45)
This includes the region-wide $5 million regional challenge to advance gender equality. In Honduras, nearly $24 million to expand employment opportunities and promote civic and election participation and integrity. In El Salvador, nearly $12 million to help small businesses recover from the impact of COVID, as well as new multi-year solicitations for up to $150 million to address crime and violence, including gender-based violence, and provide opportunities to youth and others. In Guatemala, more than $19 million to strengthen anti- corruption efforts. These are but a few of the examples of the efforts that are already underway to address the root causes of irregular migration. Let me speak about what we have done and what we have underway to build safe, legal, and orderly pathways so that people do not need to take the perilous journey north. On June 10th, the US government announced more than $57 million in funds to support urgent humanitarian needs of vulnerable refugees and migrants in Central America.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (14:07)
The Department of State opened the first migration resource center in Guatemala to provide individuals with protection screening and referrals to asylum, refugee resettlement, and parole options, and I had the privilege and opportunity to visit the migrant resource center in Guatemala last month. The president issued a new fiscal year 2021 Presidential Determination on Refugees that created 5,000 slots for refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean. On March 10th, our department, the Department of Homeland Security and state reopened the Central American Minors, or CAM, program to reunite children who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras with their parents in the United States. On June 15th, we announced the expansion of the Central American Minors program. That was a program that was working and that President Trump dismantled. DHS set aside 6,000 H-2B visas for temporary nonagricultural workers for nationals from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (15:23)
On July 29th, last week, the US government, we launched the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy, the first of its kind to strengthen cooperative efforts to manage safe, orderly, and humane migration in North and Central America. We are also, as I mentioned, improving processing at the southern border and implementing other measures, not only to stop recidivism, but to tackle the challenge in other ways, including to strengthen enforcement. We have deployed additional personnel to the southern border. We have increased lateral flights of migrants to address capacity constraints in Mexico. Our expulsion flights are now increasingly moving into the interior of Mexico, so recidivism is not as easy. We are doing so in collaboration with Mexico. We are prosecuting individuals who’ve been previously removed from the United States because they have unsuccessfully made a claim for relief under our laws. We are undertaking expedited removal proceedings.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (16:40)
Under our law, we have in certain circumstances the ability and the capacity to accomplish the removal of individuals who do not qualify to remain in the United States to do so more expeditiously, and we are using those authorities. In partnership with the Department of Justice, we are proceeding in accelerated fashion with immigration court proceedings to deliver justice more rapidly without compromising due process. We are working with Mexico to increase interdictions. I visited Mexico with other officials in the administration about two days ago to speak about how we can more effectively partner together and what more they can do in the context of our overall relationship as close partners. We have increased our law enforcement operations in partnership with the Mexican authorities. I met again with the Attorney General of Mexico, as well as north of the border here in the United States in an all-of-government effort working in task forces both within the Department of Homeland Security and with our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other law enforcement agencies across the federal enterprise. We are prepared to do more as the situation warrants.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (18:09)
It is critical that intending migrants understand clearly that they will be turned back if they enter the United States illegally, and do not have a basis for relief under our laws. We are also at the same time developing and implementing foundational changes to the system, addressing problems that have existed for many, many years, but have never been solved. In the coming days, our department will announce that we are making changes and improvements to how we process asylum claims. We continue to rebuild our immigration system to ensure fairness and promote equity. We are expanding the virtual platform that we used so successfully to assist the migrants in Camp Matamoros, which was intolerable conditions.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (19:16)
We are using that virtual platform where migrants could register using their phones, and we were working with, and are continuing to work with and will increasingly work with, community-based organizations in Mexico, international relief organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, like UNICEF, like the International Organization for Migration, to bring in individuals in a safe, orderly, and humane way when in fact they make a claim for relief under United States law that the law recognizes. We are also of course addressing the detention conditions here in the United States-
Alejandro Mayorkas: (20:03)
… addressing the detention conditions here in the United States. And of course, I think you’re all aware of the measures we’ve taken in that regard. And we will continue to take the measures that the situation warrants. As I mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique and significant challenge. We are seeing an increase in positivity rate among the migrant population. We built an architecture to test and isolate the migrants who make a legal claim for asylum. With respect to unaccompanied children, they are tested and cohorted on intake before we moved them as rapidly as possible to the shelter of health and human services. With respect to families, we continue to operate centers where families are tested and isolated as needed. We are working and have established a system with non-governmental organizations in the communities to test and isolate family members as the situation warrants.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (21:16)
And as I mentioned earlier, the predominant majority of single adults are expelled rapidly from the border patrol. Now, of course, the Delta variant makes the situation more difficult. Our capacity to test, isolate, and quarantine the vulnerable population that makes a legal claim for asylum is stretched. The rate of positivity among the migrants is at or lower than the rates in our local border communities. As has been expressed by the medical professionals, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We are building new capacity to address the situation and we are doing so as rapidly as possible.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (22:11)
The extent of the challenge should not be understated, but nor should our ability to meet it, thanks to our workforce, our expertise, our plans, and our execution of those plans. Our mission is to protect the American public and to administer the laws of our nation. Consistent with that, our efforts will uphold our laws and will uphold our values. That includes the laws of humanitarian relief, as well as the laws of enforcement. We will work relentlessly to work illegal immigration and to adjudicate asylum claims fairly and efficiently. Both are embedded in the law, and we are committed to upholding both. As we work to meet these longstanding challenges, we do not turn our backs on our values, our principles, our humanity, and our proudest traditions. With that, let me turn it over to Chief Raul Ortiz of the United States Border Patrol. Thank you.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (23:38)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And thank all of y’all. What we’ve seen today is certainly been an opportunity for the secretary to meet with our men and women that are out there on the front lines. We’ve met with our border patrol agents, our volunteer force, our other agency partners, the secretary, and the rest of the leadership. We’re able to meet with our sheriffs and our DPS state partners, as well as our elected officials from county and local governments, all the way from Del Rio to the Rio Grande valley. We recognize that here at South Texas, we are responsible for about 60% of the legal migration traffic that happens along the Southwest border. And so it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we have the necessary resources to combat both illegal migration, as well as those other threats that we are experiencing on a daily basis.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (24:39)
Secretary, I’m grateful that you have allowed me to lead the men and women. I’ll be the 25th chief of the United States Border Patrol. And I take that responsibility with tremendous pride. And not only in what I’m going to be able to provide in support for the men and women of the United States Border Patrol, but as well as to be able to advocate for those resources that are needed here in South Texas and across the 2,000 miles, as well as our Northern border and our coastal sectors. One of the things that we heard significantly today is that the impacts to these border communities and we are continuing to add as much capacity as we possibly can. As the secretary mentioned, we have moved more border agents here to South Texas, and we’re continue to shift our resources against those threats that we’re experiencing on a daily basis.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (25:30)
I was mentioning to the secretary earlier when I was a young agent back in 1996, Brownsville was the busiest place in the country. And we have managed to turn that around. We will do the same thing with this current migration that we’re experiencing at this time. We will have an opportunity to certainly impact, but we’re going to do it in a humane way. And we’re going to do it with tremendous dignity, not just for the populations that we are encountering, because it is a complex situation. The demographics of the people that we’re encountering are much different than when I started 30 plus years ago. What we’re experiencing now with unaccompanied children, family units, migrants from countries that we traditionally don’t experience these tremendous blows from or what our border patrol agents are faced with each and every day. And then you compound that with this COVID threat.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (26:19)
And in any given day, I may have between 300 and 400 agents that are in quarantine status. And as you know, and I where this black band over my badge because we’ve lost eight border patrol agents in the line of duty to COVID or to other events. And one is too many. And so as we talk about migration, there are other threats that exist out there. Our border patrol agents are working tirelessly in between the front lines. We have seen increases in seizures and methamphetamines, phentenol, cocaine. And just over the last week in this sector alone, agents various checkpoint, 78 pounds of cocaine. That’s cocaine that would have made it into our inner streets, had it not been for the diligence and hard work of the men and women of the border patrol.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (27:16)
Two nights ago, our agents would counter 10 individuals trafficking methamphetamines across the river. And those agents had not been out there in between the ports of entry, working in the hours of darkness under tremendous stress, those seven backpacks would have made it into the US. And we know that we have an opioid epidemic. So on top of dealing with the tremendous flow that we’re experiencing right now, our agents continue to go out there and perform the border security, national security mission each and every day. And they do it with a tremendous pride. I couldn’t tell you enough that the professionalism exhibited by those border patrol agents is amazing.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (28:03)
And one of the things that the secretary was able to convey to him, to all of them, is that he’s going to continue to work hard to make sure that they have the necessary resources to perform their mission. We’re going to get more technology out there in between those ports of entry. And we’re going to ask for more agents so we can ensure that we have the right amount of personnel, technology, and a good strategy to take the fight to the cartels and continue to make sure that we dismantle these criminal organizations before they make it through the immediate border area. Thank you very much. And thank you, Mr. Secretary for your support.
Speaker 1: (28:39)
We have time for a few questions. [inaudible 00:28:46], do you have one?
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. CBS News went inside [inaudible 00:28:54] Park where a tent city sprung up overnight because the public park outside is the only available option left for local officials and NGOs, now scrambling to test and quarantine families released from US custody. The McAllen mayor told us, reminded us immigration is a federal responsibility. The head of Catholic Charities here in the Rio Grande Valley says she wants the federal government to tell her, “We’ll take over here.” Is there a plan to deploy federal resources and personnel, FEMA or National Guard boots on the ground, for instance, to test and quarantine migrants released from federal custody. And what is your message to local leaders issuing local disaster declarations because they’ve run out of options during this pandemic.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (29:35)
So thank you very much. I visited the park earlier today. I met with Sister Norma and other individuals who are doing extraordinary work there. We, of course, in the federal government do testing, isolation, and quarantine. We work with non-governmental organizations as well, and we set up an architecture. Dr. Pradesh Gandhi has done an extraordinary job over a number of months where-
Alejandro Mayorkas: (30:03)
… done an extraordinary job over a number of months where we are able to reimburse the non-governmental organizations for the expenses that they incur in testing and isolating and quarantine, if and as necessary, the migrant population. The park is outdoors. It is the safest way in which we can accomplish that testing in isolation, in an outdoor setting. And those individuals are tested positive, and we’re working very carefully with Sister Norma. And we had a discussion earlier today and I will be meeting with her later today as well to discuss the mechanics and what more we can do. It’s a very successful partnership and we have to devote more resources to it, and we will.
Speaker 2: (30:51)
Secretary, thank you for this conference. So you mentioned that the US has started to send migrant Central American families deeper into Mexico as a strategy to prevent them from traveling North again. Is this par in response to the pushback that Mexico that you’ve experienced, that the US has experienced and receiving some of those Title 42 families? Or do these changes reflect some of the new international coordination to stem migration?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (31:30)
So this is a response to something that I referred to in my opening remarks, which is the fact that we are seeing a significant amount of recidivism in the context of individuals who’ve been expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority. They have not been placed in immigration enforcement proceedings under Title Eight. Instead, we use the Title 42 authority to basically turn them around. But if in fact they are turned around and placed in the Northern part of Mexico, it is too facile, too easy for them to return and try an illegal entry again. And so in response to that recidivism, to deter and prevent that recidivism from occurring, we are expelling them further into the interior of Mexico, where it’s far more difficult to try again.
Victor with Voice of America. How many flights and how many people have been taking place over the last week or a month, sending them back to Tapachula? And how is Mexico responding to sending Central Americans within Mexico, I guess?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (32:49)
So I will have to get back to you on the specific data with respect to the number of flights, but what we are doing, in terms of our efforts, is in collaboration with the Mexican Government. For the second time, I traveled to Mexico about two days ago to speak about the need to increase the number of flights into the interior of Mexico to deter that recidivism. We are speaking with Mexico in the context of our overall relationship, not just on issues of migration, but on issues of economic partnership, such as significant trade and travel partner of ours, one of the most significant trading partnerships in the world. In that context, we’re speaking about what greater interdiction efforts they can employ to stem the flow. And we are of like-minds in that regard.
Speaker 3: (33:55)
Thank you. [foreign language 00:33:56]. Secretary, I want to know what are your perception about the migrant crossing in this moment. Increase the number, but considering this is a very serious problem. And the second question is you’ve just been in Mexico. Especially when you were in Mexico talking about the Title 42, [crosstalk 00:34:16].
Alejandro Mayorkas: (34:18)
So forgive me. I’m not sure I caught your first part of your question, but I will say this about my two trips to Mexico. The partnership is extraordinarily strong. We have a shared interest in enforcement, and we have a shared interest in humanitarian relief. The fact that those two co-exist in addressing this challenge makes it that much more complex. We will stop illegal immigration. That is our responsibility. At the same time, individuals who qualify for humanitarian relief under United States law, laws that Congress has passed will be granted that relief. We will not turn our back on the laws of accountability nor on the laws of humanitarian relief.
Speaker 4: (35:22)
Thank you so much, Secretary, for taking my question as usual, from [KSN5 00:35:26] in San Antonio. How do expulsion flights to Southern Mexico comply with our asylum laws and administration’s verbal commitment that you reiterated today of a humane immigration system? Because the administration is dropping people off in the middle of Mexico, they have no resources, and no way back home. Thank you.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (35:44)
So we are working with Mexico to ensure that the individuals who are subject to the expulsion flights, their needs are addressed. We have a responsibility under the public health authority of the Centers for Disease Control to protect the American public. We are in the midst of a pandemic, a pandemic that has not only gripped this country, as I think we all know, but it’s gripped the world. And it is in the lawful exercise of that public health authority that we are executing those expulsion flights in the service of the public health, not only of the American public, but of the migrants themselves.
We have time for just one more. Sandra?
Thank you. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Can you hear me?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (36:38)
Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Question, want to revisit the COVID testing conversation that you had a little bit earlier. There are some communities like Laredo that do not have NGOs that have set up testing ability, and there’s some pushback that starting to begin from those communities who are refusing to accept migrants from, say, the RGV family units who were being sent because they are showing a COVID positivity rate. Can DHS test those migrant family units prior? What are you doing to alleviate that concern in those areas?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (37:09)
I’m glad you asked that question, because this is an area of significant focus of ours. We have built an architecture. The fact of the matter is there are communities that have greater capacity than others. Some communities have greater non-governmental organization capacity than do others. And we are building new processes to make sure that the migrants are tested, cohorted during transportation, isolated in quarantine as necessary. And we are surging federal resources to address that need.
Thank you so much.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (37:44)
Thank you all very much for joining us.