May 13, 2021
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Testimony on Immigration, Southern Border Transcript
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified before the Senate on May 13, 2021 on immigration at the southern border and unaccompanied minors. Read the transcript of the full hearing below.
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Chairman Peters: (04:38)
The committee will come to order. Secretary Mayorkas, welcome back, and thank you for your willingness to testify and your continued service to our nation. We appreciate that. I know that you and the Biden administration as a whole inherited a number of very serious challenges, and I’ve been impressed with what you’ve accomplished in a relatively short time. Your efforts to support the wide distribution of vaccines to every community so we can get through this pandemic and your concrete actions to combat domestic terrorism, including white national violence, is appreciated. While you help ensure communities across the country are safer and more secure, we know that it is a big job that requires your constant attention, and while doing all of that, your department has also grappled with the situation on our southern border, addressing the humanitarian challenges presented by the arrivals of unaccompanied children while also working to keep our border secure.
Chairman Peters: (05:48)
That is the focus of today’s hearing, and I look forward to hearing about some of your successes and the challenges that you continue to face and the support and resources that your department needs to effectively carry out your mission while ensuring appropriate care of people who are in DHS custody. Although we saw higher than usual numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border earlier this spring, these numbers appear to be decreasing. Even so, the significant numbers of migrants seeking asylum in the United States continues to present a very serious challenge.
Chairman Peters: (06:26)
Our nation rightfully serves as a beacon for those who are fleeing persecution. We have an obligation to ensure that the migrants on our borders that our border security professionals encounter are being treated with dignity and have appropriate food, care, and shelter. But we also must ensure that those efforts do not restrict the ability of border security personnel to continue their critical frontline mission to stop illicit drugs, contraband, and other illegal activity along our borders and help keep Americans safe.
Chairman Peters: (07:03)
Mr. Secretary, many of the challenges that you inherited were made worse because of the actions of the previous administration. The Trump administration’s decision to suspend longstanding legal protections afforded to minors and those fleeing persecution for significant numbers of asylum seekers to wait in a very precarious condition in Mexico. As a result, when President Biden took office in January, there was already a significant population of vulnerable asylum seekers, especially minors, waiting to seek refuge in the United States from violence or persecution in their home countries.
Chairman Peters: (07:41)
The ongoing pandemic has compounded challenges faced by both the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human services as they work to house unaccompanied children. COVID-19 health protocols have limited the amount of space and staff available at state licensed shelters. These factors resulted in more than 5,000 children at a time being held for days in the care of border patrol agents, who are simply not trained in childcare. These minors should have been transferred, ideally within hours, to Health and Human Service facilities where licensed child welfare professionals ensure they receive adequate care while waiting for a release to sponsors in the United States. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the southern border twice so far this year to see both the border facilities and the shelters for unaccompanied children firsthand and speak directly with the folks on the ground who are working to address these challenges. During my most recent visit, I spoke with dedicated border patrol agents who were personally supplying toys and food to unaccompanied minors in their care at their own expense. They were going above and beyond their official responsibilities, and we all appreciate that effort. I’m happy to see the DHS’s recent efforts to help Health and Human Services identify additional shelter locations and expedite the safe transfer of these children, and it’s beginning to show positive results. I’m encouraged to see a drastic reduction in the number of these vulnerable children in border patrol facilities and that they are staying for shorter periods of time.
Chairman Peters: (09:35)
While the situation at our southern border continues to improve thanks to the Biden administration’s efforts, I will say, unfortunately, many challenges still persist, especially because of the population of migrants who are continuing to flee incredibly dangerous conditions in their home countries. This committee and Congress must work together to address the root causes of migration flows and ensure that the federal agencies in charge of responding to these challenges have the right resources and support. This is a big task, but it is not insurmountable. Secretary Mayorkas, I look forward to hearing from you and how Congress can work with the administration to secure our borders and ensure we have sufficient personnel, provide asylum seekers with appropriate care, and ensure asylum applicants are processed efficiently and fairly to help address these concerns. With that, I turn it over to Ranking Member Portman for your opening comments.
Ranking Member Portman: (10:38)
Thank you, Chairman Peters. I appreciate your moving ahead with this hearing, and it’s critical we have it and appreciate the bipartisan oversight of the critical issues we’ll talk about today. More than 50,000 unaccompanied children have come to our border during the 113 days since the first day of the Biden administration, when they immediately began to put in place new policies. Typically, these kids were brought by unscrupulous traffickers and too often abused along the way.
Ranking Member Portman: (11:11)
This chart behind me shows what has happened. It uses customs and border protection data to show that the crisis today is unprecedented, far worse than it was last year and even substantially worse than 2019, when everyone considered it a crisis. Here’s 2019. Here is the inauguration. Here’s where we are today. Because the focus today is on unaccompanied children, these numbers do not even include families, which are also coming in in large numbers, 50 times higher than last year at this time, or single adults, where there’s a 20-year high as predicted by the secretary, 20-year high in crossings, or, of course, the drug trafficking, which is a huge concern. We know that seizures of deadly fentanyl, as an example, are at a record high. We don’t know how many of these deadly drugs are getting through, but it’s most of them.
Ranking Member Portman: (12:17)
Last month, over 108,000 single adults were apprehended at the border, up from 96,000 in March and, again, seven times greater than last April. On top of that, the border patrol conservatively estimates that over 40,000 people who crossed illegally got away and were not apprehended in April. We have no idea who these individuals are. Our federal agencies in the border are, of course, overwhelmed. My hope is that today we can quickly get past the debate on the nature of this unprecedented surge so we can turn to solutions to stop the surge and ensure that vulnerable children are not further endangered by the policy choices being made here in Washington, DC.
Ranking Member Portman: (13:02)
Mr. Secretary, it’s been two months since you, Chairman Peters, the ranking and chairs of the DHS subcommittee on appropriations and I traveled to El Paso to see this crisis at the border firsthand. I appreciate your support of our trip, and I’ve appreciated our conversations since. What I learned on our fact-finding trip was that the border patrol is overwhelmed and short-staffed because the overwhelming pressure at the border from not only unaccompanied minors arriving, but also the significant increase in adult and family arrivals we have discussed. I’m proud of the border patrol agents and welcome the progress made in getting out of the situation we are in, where so many children were crowded into CBP facilities. They have now gone into other government shelters run by HHS, so more frontline agents in the border patrol can now go back to their critical law enforcement duties along the border.
Ranking Member Portman: (13:58)
Border patrol agents are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation, and we must support them, including providing additional resources. I learned the pressure on the border patrol of managing the influx of migrants, particularly processing children and families as they are detained, has taken them away from border enforcement activities. Human traffickers and drug smugglers know that. They are using unaccompanied children and families to divert border patrol agents so that they can cross the border with other illegal entries and illicit and deadly narcotics, such as fentanyl, that are killing Ohioans and others across our country with record levels of drug overdoses and hurting families across the country. I learned that the surge of children puts those children at risk of abuse and trafficking even once they’re in the United States.
Ranking Member Portman: (14:52)
Remember, these children are only held until sponsors can be found in the interior of the United States. Then, as we have learned, regardless of the asylum adjudication that might occur, hardly any of these children will ever be returned to their home country. In fact, those who came in the last surge in 2019 I’m told are almost all still here in the United States. We’ve all heard the horrifying stories of the trauma some children experience on their way north. We’ve heard of sexual assault and other abuses, including, unfortunately, at HHS facilities. Now hundreds of federal employees with no formal experience or training in childcare are being brought in from other jobs around the country to help care for these children. I appreciate those volunteers, but I’m also concerned that they don’t have the training and experience to be able to properly care for them.
Ranking Member Portman: (15:49)
HHS is repeating the same mistakes of the two previous administrations as they deal with this crisis. With the overwhelming number of children, HHS has released children quickly without proper background checks of sponsors or other adults in the same household. We know that in some cases in the past, children have even been sent back to their traffickers, and HHS has lost contact with these kids. I’m glad that Customs and Border Protection has moved children to HHS, again, but these children have only been moved from one federal agency to another, and now HHS is in crisis. Moving from one unsafe overcrowded facility to another is not a measurement of success. Neither is releasing them to sponsors who have not been properly vetted.
Ranking Member Portman: (16:38)
We’ve seen this before. While chairman of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, we issued three bipartisan investigative reports and held three hearings over two administrations on this very issue. We found that HHS failed to conduct background checks and, as a result, release children to human traffickers, including some who were placed into forced labor at an egg farm in my home state of Ohio. A major issue left unresolved is that unaccompanied children remain at risk because no federal agency claims legal responsibility or authority to ensure they are not being trafficked or abused once placed with a sponsor. There’s no accountability.
Ranking Member Portman: (17:16)
These are all downstream problems that exist because of the surges and the incentives that encourage parents to send their children with human smugglers to enter our country unlawfully. The current policy is essentially that any child from anywhere other than Mexico who shows up at our southern border is allowed to come into the United States for an indefinite period of time. As long as that is true, in my view, the surge will continue. I support more help to the Central American countries and so-called Northern Triangle countries, where most of these unaccompanied children are coming from. But no one who looks at this problem seriously can believe that any amount of aid to Central America will change the pull to come here in the short term. Properly targeted US foreign assistance and engagement in the region can help to change conditions over time, but the crisis at the border is now.
Ranking Member Portman: (18:11)
There are three actions the administration must do and two actions Congress can do. One is to support the border patrol with more agents, more technology, and certainly the completion of the parts of the border wall that are already paid for. My hope is that we’ve made some progress on this issue just in the last 24 hours. Second, we must provide incentives for children to apply for asylum from their home country, not to come to the border, and we must reinstate the safe third country agreement so they can apply there. Third, we should require immediate asylum adjudication at the border for children and families and adults. It will require some resources, but it’s well worth it. We should not be releasing children to sponsors in the interior of the United States pending a decision. We should be making the decision at the border. We should also pass our bipartisan bill, the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act, to require better background checks and to ensure accountability to be sure HHS keeps track of these children who have already come in. We also need to pass my legislation to mandate E-Verify to reduce the jobs magnet, which is behind all of this. The sad reality is that some of these children are exploited and abused, including being forced to work in violation of labor laws in order to pay off their smugglers. That this is happening right now, here, in this country is unacceptable. Mr. Secretary, again, I appreciate your being here today and look forward to discussing all these issues in more depth with you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Peters: (19:43)
Thank you, Senator Portman. Secretary Mayorkas, it is the practice of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to swear on witnesses. So if you will stand and raise your right hand, do you swear that the testimony you will give before this committee will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (20:03)
Chairman Peters: (20:04)
Thank you. You may be seated. Secretary Mayorkas is the seventh secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, he served the department as deputy secretary and as a director of US citizenship and immigration services and began his public service at the Department of Justice. Secretary, thank you again for appearing before this committee, and I’ll recognize you for your seven minutes of opening remarks.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (20:33)
Thank you very much, Chairman Peters, Ranking Member Portman, and distinguished members of the committee. Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today. This hearing addresses a subject of intense focus at the Department of Homeland Security. We are addressing the needs of unaccompanied children who arrive at our southern border without a parent or legal guardian, children who have fled torture, persecution, extreme violence, and poverty, many who have crossed Mexico in the grasp of smugglers with the hope of reaching safety and uniting with their parent or close relative here in the United States. These are children, many of tender age.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (21:20)
To address the needs of these children, we mobilized capabilities from our different agencies and offices. We called upon the dedication, expertise, and talent of the workforce of the Department of Homeland Security. I am privileged to speak with you today about the challenges we confronted, the actions we have taken to overcome those challenges, and the extraordinary results we have achieved thus far.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (21:47)
First, the challenges. We began our work with systems and tools that the prior administration had dismantled and with assistance programs that had been torn down or cut short. We had to rebuild while at the same time addressing the surge of unaccompanied children that had begun in April of 2020, many months before we took office, and our efforts had to be undertaken in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are dedicated to an orderly, safe, and humane immigration system, and therefore we stopped the prior administration’s policy of expelling the unaccompanied children. We did not turn them away.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (22:32)
Because the prior administration failed to increase the Department of Health and Human Services’ capacity to receive the unaccompanied children from border patrol stations within the required timeframe, children were staying in border patrol stations for too long. As I have said before, a border patrol station is no place for a child. In late March, more than 5,700 children were in border patrol stations, and the average length of their stay was 133 hours. We managed the situation because of, quite simply, the selfless dedication, the heroism of the United States Border Patrol. I repeated then what I had said two weeks earlier, that we have a plan, that we are executing on our plan, and that it will take time. This is what we do, and we know how to do it.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (23:32)
On March 13th, I directed our Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to support an all of government effort to assist HHS in transferring and sheltering the children. Then I directed our expert US Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel to serve as caseworkers to further support HHS, helping unite the children with their verified relatives here in the US. Our department’s dedicated and talented workforce volunteered to provide further assistance. We also deployed our chief medical officer and his team’s expertise, instituting COVID-19 health and safety protocols and mobilizing additional medical teams, including those of the United States Coast Guard.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (24:22)
It is now about six weeks later. On March 29, more than 5,700 children were in border patrol stations. Two days ago, there were 455. On March 29, 4,078 children were in border patrol stations more than the maximum allowed 72 hours. Two days ago, there were none. On March 29, the average length of time a child spent in a border patrol station was 133 hours. Two days ago, on May 11th, the average time was 22 hours. The challenge is not behind us, but the results are dramatic. Not only did we mobilize the talented workforce of the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with our colleagues at HHS, we have also been re-engineering the process from start to finish and creating new efficiencies. These changes are reducing the time a child spends in the shelter and care of HHS before being united with her or his parent or legal guardian in the US.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (25:38)
More broadly, to affect more foundational change, our immigration strategy focuses on three key areas. First, we are addressing the root causes of migration for the Northern Triangle countries, addressing the reasons why families send their children in the first place. Second, we are building legal pathways for children and others to come to the United States if they qualify under the laws that Congress passed many years ago so that they do not think that they have to take the dangerous journey north. Third, we are urging you to pass immigration reform. We are all in agreement that the system is broken. We need to come together to pass the proposed legislation that fixes the broken system. Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to answering your questions.
Chairman Peters: (26:37)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your opening comments. I just want to be clear as I’ve listened to your comments, as you opened it up, you stated that the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the southern border started to rise in the second half of last year, tripling between June and December of 2020. Is that correct?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (27:02)
Mr. Chairman, the surge of unaccompanied children first began in April of last year, of April 2020, and it swelled from there.
Chairman Peters: (27:13)
So could you explain how the Trump administration anticipated and began making preparations for this increased arrival as these unaccompanied children are coming in? What were they doing to prepare for this trend that was clear last year?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (27:28)
Mr. Chairman, they did nothing to facilitate addressing the surge. What they did was they dismantled the tools that we had to address it, and they tore down the programs that could have helped alleviate the pressure.
Chairman Peters: (27:46)
They were dismantling facilities while we’re seeing the surge begin? That doesn’t seem logical to me.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (27:56)
Mr. Chairman, in my view, it was antithetical to not only our values and our principles, but also our operational needs.
Chairman Peters: (28:07)
If efforts to expand HHS shelter capacity had started earlier, back in the time that we’re talking about, in the fall or the early winter, could bottlenecks that had led to the 5,000 children in CBP, could that have been avoided?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (28:21)
Most certainly, Mr. Chairman. In fact, the conditions that were depicted in photographs that troubled us all but two months ago, those photographs would have depicted a very different situation at border patrol stations had we had the capacity for throughput that the operational efficiency of the system is predicated upon. But we didn’t have that capacity at HHS. We didn’t have the shelters and the processes in place and the resources in place to achieve that. That is what we have built.
Chairman Peters: (29:00)
Yeah, so that’s what you inherited, and you had to work pretty quickly to try to build it and expand HHS capacity in order to transfer minors. How can the department’s expertise that you’re bringing to bear now, such as the FEMA rapid response and contracting capabilities that I know you are using in order to expand that capacity, how can they be better leveraged in the future?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (29:23)
I think one of the things that we are looking at, Mr. Chairman, is actually equipping the Department of Health and Human Services with a federal workforce. It is right now built on a contracting architecture reliant on vendors, and one of the models that we’re taking a look at is whether there can be a permanent federal workforce and then a contracting architecture to address surges as they arise, because we all know that surges arise periodically. They arose in 2019. They arose in 2016, in 2014, and well before then. Migration is a very dynamic and fluid challenge that we have faced for many, many years.
Chairman Peters: (30:18)
So Mr. Secretary, I know many children arrive at the southern border with caretakers who are not their parents, and they are separated under US law from them. This policy was developed with child welfare in mind to ensure that a child is not being a victim of trafficking or otherwise being taken advantage of. At the same time, this policy can cause some heartbreaking separations, even if they are temporary. Aunts can be separated from nephews and nieces. Grandparents can be separated from grandchildren. During my trip to the border last month, for example, I met a young boy, a very young boy who had arrived with his older brother, but was separated from him and being processed separately and therefore was alone. Do you know how many children arrive with caretakers who are not their parents? Do you have any numbers related to that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (31:14)
Mr. Chairman, I don’t have those numbers with me. I would welcome the opportunity to see whether we collect that data and circle back with you. But if I can make a couple points, if I may, Mr. Chairman, first of all, certainly I grew up in the law enforcement arena. I was a federal prosecutor for 12 years, and I believe in enforcing the law. The law includes the humanitarian laws that Congress passed. Those two are deserving of enforcement, and frankly, it is our obligation and commitment in government to enforce those as well. One law that the prior administration did not enforce was the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the TVPRA, and that is our obligation to enforce. That is what we are doing.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (32:12)
Secondly, if I may, building back better is not a slogan. It is a mandate and is a mandate that I am obligated to carry out as a member of President Biden’s cabinet. That is exactly what we are doing. So the issue that you raise is something that we are very carefully looking at, and not only have we brought our capacities, our talent, our expertise to bear to address the surge of unaccompanied children that started in April of 2020, but we’re taking a look at the process, the system, and how we can re-engineer it for a better future. That re-engineering has well begun and is underway and will continue to be executed, consistent with the mandate that President Biden directed me to execute.
Chairman Peters: (33:08)
The government’s ability to ensure children are moved out of CBP facilities in a timely manner is dependent not only on HHS’s bed capacity, but also HHS’ ability to efficiently release children to sponsors here in the United States. You’ve already discussed some of the ways the DHS has assisted HHS, both in increasing bed capacity and in making the sponsor release process much more efficient. While I realize this is not specifically a DHS jurisdiction, could you just elaborate for the committee on protections that remain in place to ensure that children are not being released into a dangerous situation?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (33:49)
Mr. Chairman, we have brought expertise to bear on that part of the process as well. We have dedicated very experienced asylum and refugee officers from US Citizenship and Immigration Services who are expert in verifying the identity of individuals, and we work in tandem with experts from the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the individuals in whose care the children will be placed are qualified to be caretakers for those children. There’s an extraordinarily important data point here. Approximately 40% of the children who come to the border unaccompanied have a parent or legal guardian here in the United States. Over 90% of them have relatives here in the United States, and that is very relevant to our verification responsibilities that we execute in the hands of expertise.
Chairman Peters: (34:54)
All right. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Ranking Member Portman, you’re recognized for your questions.
Ranking Member Portman: (34:59)
Thank you, Chairman. I said at the outset I hope that we can kind of move on from the debate about the-
Ranking Member Portman: (35:03)
… Chairman. I said at the outset, I hope that we can move on from the debate about the crisis and what happened and how we got here. But I have a lot of respect for you as you know, Ms. Secretary, but I’m not able to sit here and not comment on this idea that somehow this is Donald Trump’s fault. I mean, you can say that the Trump administration should have been letting children in, but you have said instead, you think it was inhumane, what they were doing by turning children away based on Title 42, which said basically during the COVID 19 period, we weren’t going to let folks in.
Ranking Member Portman: (35:39)
And so that’s fine, we can have that debate. But you can’t say that, and then also say the Trump administration is at fault because they didn’t prepare for the surge. You’re saying they didn’t allow children to come in because they believe that under Title 42, they shouldn’t come in, as well as adults and families. Therefore kids didn’t come up to the border, they didn’t make that arduous journey from Central America. And then at the same time say they’re at fault because they didn’t prepare for the HHS facilities that they knew were necessary. They didn’t know they were necessary because the kids weren’t coming in.
Ranking Member Portman: (36:16)
These are the facts, these are the charts, okay? I mean, let’s just stipulate this so we can move on and talk about policy. And this chart is very clear. You see where the yellow line is, that is the Biden administration inauguration. Actually, I was generous, that yellow line should be one bar to the left. I gave the whole situation a month to percolate, so people would know in Central America and elsewhere, what was going on. Here’s January 21st, this bar right here, look at that surge. I mean, it’s obvious what happened. And you’ve said it, you said they weren’t allowing unaccompanied kids or families or individuals to just come into the border and then go into the interior. They stopped that practice, and it had the intended effect. People stopped sending their kids up to Central America, paying smugglers, paying traffickers. Those kids, as we’ve said, facing all kinds of assaults and exploitation.
Ranking Member Portman: (37:14)
And so, we can agree to disagree on what the policy ought to be going forward. I get that, but let’s at least stipulate as to what happened here. And what happened is, when the Biden administration came in, they made a decision. You were asked to implement it. I remember talking to you at the time and you realized this was going to result in some real issues, but the thought was, this is the humane way to go. Let’s allow these kids to come in. And so don’t blame the previous administration for not having facilities that they didn’t need, because they didn’t have the surge. Again, let’s look at the numbers.
Ranking Member Portman: (37:54)
So here we are. What do we do, is the question. And for these kids, you had said earlier about the trauma some of them have faced, and the difficulties that their families face in Central America. I get that. If I was a dad in Central America, I would want my kids to have a better life. And as I’ve talked to children and families on the border of both our most recent trip and previous trip, they all say the same thing to me, which is they do want their families to have a better life. These kids say that they’ve come here to have the opportunity, to have a life where they can not just make more money, but have a life in the United States of America, because it’s a better place to live.
Ranking Member Portman: (38:39)
I get that. And I’m all for legal immigration. And I’m all for providing asylum to people who really have a credible fear of persecution. But what we have done instead is just opened the doors. And I would make the point that those children who came in 2019, during the last surge, I would ask you, Mr. Secretary, those children were allowed to come into the interior of the United States with sponsors. Some of those sponsors were unscrupulous, as we know, and we’ve done investigations on this and had hearings on this. And some of these kids were exploited, some were not. But of those children who came in in 2019, who did not receive asylum because they didn’t meet the criteria for asylum. How many have been deported and sent back to their home countries?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (39:26)
Mr. Ranking Member, may I comment?
Ranking Member Portman: (39:28)
Yes. Yes, sir. But I would like an answer to that, because I think it’s illustrative of where we are now. That you look at your own ICE deportations in the month of April, I’m told they were at a historic low, that people were not being sent back even if they do not receive the asylum. Only 15% of individuals from Central America, I’m told, you can correct me, are successfully adjudicated. In other words, successfully having claimed asylum receive asylum. And my understanding is there is no process in place to send those other folks back to their country of origin. So surely, these smugglers have the opportunity to tell these families in Central America, give your child to me, and that child will get in the United States and indefinitely will be able to stay there. So that’s just the policy we need to look at and we need to change. But could I hear your answer on the 2019 surge, and how many of those children have been sent back to their home country?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (40:34)
Mr. Ranking Member, assuredly we’ll have the opportunity to discuss the many issues that you have raised. It will take me quite a bit of time to answer them fulsomely, but I will do so in bullet point fashion as rapidly as possible.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (40:52)
First of all, my parents brought me here to this country so that my sister and I could have a better life. So I’m very familiar with the challenges that we are addressing and more powerfully and heartbreakingly of the challenges that the parents are facing when they send their children to traverse Mexico, to reach our southern border.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (41:18)
Secondly, we speak of lawful pathways and support of them, and yet the prior administration tore those down too. They tore down the Central American Minors Program, that provided a lawful pathway for the adjudication of children’s rights to arrive here in the United States and stay in the United States under the laws that Congress passed. But that was torn down.
Ranking Member Portman: (41:43)
Mr. Secretary, just for a second, before we just continue the blame game here, how many children were processed over a three-year period through that program? Which I support by the way, and I support reinstating it.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (41:54)
That program should have been built up rather than torn down.
Ranking Member Portman: (41:58)
Well, how many children were during the Obama administration were brought in under that program?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (42:02)
I would be pleased to provide that data.
Ranking Member Portman: (42:05)
I think it’s about 5,000 children, 5,000 children. Look at these numbers, over three years. So I support that program, but let’s not think that these are going to solve the problems that we face. Anyway, please continue.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (42:22)
That’s 5,000 children that were expelled. Next, I do not think that the prior administration supported legal immigration. They threw up every obstacle possible to permit legal immigration. Fourth, the asylum system is in need of improvement. It is in need of strengthening, and that is precisely what we are dedicated to achieving. It has been a years’ long challenge, preceding the Trump administration, preceding the Obama administration, that the time of adjudication of asylum claims is too long. We need to shorten that, but not at the expense of permitting individuals to develop their legitimate claims through the recovery from the trauma that they might have suffered, and so many in fact have suffered.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (43:23)
And lastly, with respect to our enforcement efforts, we are focused on enforcing the law and focusing on individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety, national security, and border security. And that is what we are executing upon, just as I did as a federal prosecutor for 12 years in a jurisdiction of approximately 18 million people with limited resources. We said we’re going to allocate those resources to have the greatest public safety impact. I’m proceeding no differently as the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Speaker 3: (44:00)
Thank you, Secretary Mayorkas, I appreciate it. Senator Hassan, you are recognized for your questions. I need to momentarily step away to an armed services committee to ask some questions, so the gavel will be turned over to Senator Carper. Senator Hassan, you may ask your questions.
Sen. Hassan: (44:17)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Portman for holding this hearing, and Secretary Mayorkas, welcome, and thank you for your service. I want to start with a question about inter-agency coordination. At the end of 2020, even as the number of unaccompanied children began increasing, HHS capacity to shelter children remained limited. As numbers continued to rise in 2021, DHS mobilized support to provide care, speed up processing, and stand up emergency shelters. This included key assistance from FEMA, which helped HHS open 14 emergency intake sites, as well as assistance from the US Coast Guard and US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The surge of unaccompanied children has slowed recently, from more than 52,000 children transported to ORR facilities in March, to approximately 20,000 children in April. Secretary, given that the volume may continue to fluctuate, is DHS prepared to re-mobilize personnel and resources from FEMA or other parts of DHS when it is necessary?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (45:24)
Thank you very much, Senator. Yes, yes we are. But to something I said earlier, we’re also focused upon building the capacity for the Department of Health and Human Services so that it has the resources to address it’s elements of the process of the care for young children.
Sen. Hassan: (45:46)
Well, thank you for that, but given the fluctuations, I just think you will need to have some flexibility there in supports available.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (45:53)
And we most certainly do, we have that capacity, that surge capacity, if you will. And the president has in fact directed an all of government effort to address that.
Sen. Hassan: (46:04)
Thank you. Let me turn to a different topic. There are several inter-agency and inter-governmental programs designed to identify threats and prevent dangerous people from entering our communities. These include the Visa Security Program, the Refugee Admissions Program, USCIS processes to evaluate asylum claims, and the National Vetting Center within DHS. Secretary Mayorkas, do you believe that any of these vetting programs need to be enhanced to ensure that our programs can identify and prevent dangerous people from entering the United States?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (46:37)
Senator, we have tremendous vetting capabilities in the Department of Homeland Security and across the federal enterprise. They are very strong vetting capabilities of which we are extremely proud and of course, extremely proud of personnel of the Department of Homeland Security that have developed and administer those vetting programs. But we never rest on what we have achieved. We are always looking at how everything we do can be strengthened and improved, and that is especially the case with our vetting programs, with the use of new technologies, new analytic tools, new sources of expertise.
Sen. Hassan: (47:17)
Thank you. Now I want to talk a little bit more about how we vet sponsors for unaccompanied children. Coordinated efforts between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services have reduced the time that unaccompanied children spend in government facilities. However, I am concerned, and you’ve heard it from other folks here this morning, about the vetting process for sponsors. For example, in the past, HHS has sometimes failed to recognize that people who were sponsoring multiple unrelated children could also perhaps be human traffickers, that when they do that kind of sponsorship of unrelated children, they could be engaged in human trafficking, or that sponsors have failed to ensure that children appear in immigration court.
Sen. Hassan: (48:05)
So I understand that HHS has primary responsibility for vetting sponsors, but could you explain how DHS is working with HHS to ensure that sponsors are appropriately vetted to prevent human trafficking, to ensure that children are placed in safe environments, and ensure that sponsors bring children into the immigration proceedings?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (48:26)
Thank you, Senator. We have achieved and are continuing to achieve efficiencies in the process, but never at the expense of the quality in our administration of the processes. And that is quite evident in precisely the subject that you are focused upon, which is the vetting of the family, relatives, or sponsors of the unaccompanied children. It is precisely why we did not take from our volunteer workforce or our surge capacity workforce individuals unqualified to conduct that vetting. Quite the contrary. What we did was deploy experts in the vetting of individuals with respect to their identity and their qualifications. We took asylum and refugee officers who deal with these very issues in the hottest spots around the world, and applied their technical expertise and experience to the vetting of the sponsors. And we are working as hard as we can to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. We learn from mistakes and we move forward. And that is precisely what we are doing in our support of the Department of Health and Human Services that does indeed have ultimate responsibility for that part of the process.
Sen. Hassan: (49:52)
Thank you. Medical professionals have noted that unaccompanied children apprehended at the border suffer trauma before they ever entered DHS and HHS custody. Trauma from being separated from their loved ones, from being in the company of strangers, or even from mental or physical abuse prior to, or during the journey to the United States. In a briefing to the committee, officials stated that DHS and HHS were focused on building trauma informed procedures. Secretary Mayorkas, could you tell the committee about what DHS has done and what you further plan to do to address trauma experienced by children before they are in custody, and to reduce trauma experienced by children while they are in custody?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (50:38)
Senator, we cannot overstate the trauma that some of these children have endured. It speaks to, on the one hand, the cruelty of some, but it also speaks poignantly of the resilience of the human spirit. It’s remarkable what these children have gone through, but how they can see a better day ahead. It is our responsibility. It is a responsibility of humanity to address the needs of these children. And what we have done with our chief medical officer, an extraordinarily talented and dedicated individual, Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, is to see what these children have gone through, what their needs are, and to bring that health professional counseling at the earliest possible time in our operational processes. And the Department of Health and Human Services and their expertise in this area, to bring those resources to bear, so that it exists throughout the period. And one thing, why we speak of efficiency, but not at the expense of quality, is sometimes it takes an individual time to work through the trauma they have suffered and articulate the claim for relief that they have, legitimately under the laws that we have passed. And we’re very mindful of that.
Sen. Hassan: (52:12)
Thank you very much. And thank you, Senator Carper.
Sen. Carper: (52:15)
Senator Hassan, thank you for those questions. Not every day that a former chairman of this committee is asked by the current chairman and ranking member of this committee to preside and to recognize another former chairman of this committee to ask questions a former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. It’s great to see you again, and my friend, you’re recognized.
Sen. Johnson: (52:37)
Unprecedented, thank you Senator Carper. This does feel like old times, back in 2014, little deja vu. You’ve got the gavel, I’m sitting next to you, and we’re in the midst of a crisis at the border, even though some are denying it. I know during my chairmanship in hearings, going through the problem solving process, I’d often say the first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one. And it just does seem like we are in an utter state of denial. I’ve got a chart, a little bit different than Senator Portman’s. His is children, I’ve got total apprehensions at the border. And it shows clearly, it’s galling, quite honestly, to hear that this is a crisis inherited by this administration. That the chairman is saying that the numbers are decreasing, the situation’s improving. The surge started in April of 2020, to the extent that we had any surge in 2020, it’s because Democrat presidential candidates were saying, “We’re not going to deport anybody, and we’re going to give everybody free healthcare.” That was an incentive. That was a pull factor.
Sen. Johnson: (53:43)
But it’s very clear what’s been happening. The crisis in 2018, 2019, we had probably a little over 4,000 apprehensions per day. We have, for the last four or five weeks, been close to 6,000 per day. In 2014, we were dealing with around 2,000 per day. This is unprecedented in what’s happening here. And when you talk about the Trump administration dismantling things, what they did is they ended catch and release. They ended the enormous incentive for people to come into this country and exploit our very generous asylum laws. Mr. Secretary, real quick. Isn’t it true that when cases are actually adjudicated on asylum, about 90% of them are denied?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (54:35)
I don’t believe that is true.
Sen. Johnson: (54:38)
What is the real percentage then?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (54:41)
Senator, I don’t have the data right before me, but I’m very happy-
Sen. Johnson: (54:45)
Okay, please get that for me. Let me ask you, have you done a cost study on how much money the taxpayers will waste, that is going to be expended by not honoring the contracts to build the final 250 miles of wall? Have you figured out how much that’s going to cost the American taxpayer, and get no wall built?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (55:06)
Senator, I certainly have taken a look at the expenses that were incurred in building the wall, and in my opinion, how much waste was caused by that construction, when in fact we could have leveraged innovation of new technologies that prove far more effective in securing the border.
Sen. Johnson: (55:28)
Okay. So again, I know you’re in a state of denial, but let’s go back to my chart here. What the Trump administration did is they ended the incentives. So they put in place migrant protection protocols. Then they quite honestly threatened us in tariffs to get cooperation from Mexico. That’s that line right there. And you can see, it worked. Add to that the imposition of Title 42, and it really worked. We pretty well stopped a robust surge of illegal immigration at the border. And that was pretty much, in fact again, it started ramping up when democratic presidential candidates started talking about open borders and free healthcare.
Sen. Johnson: (56:10)
This is President Biden’s inauguration, here’s the surge. That’s a surge. Let me talk about real numbers too. At the height of the surge, in May of 2018, it was a little over 7,000 unaccompanied children per month. In March of 2020, right here, that had dropped to about 3,000. After Title 42, it dropped down to 741 per month. That was the low point. In March of this year, almost 19,000. Last month, in April, 17,000 unaccompanied children. Those are the numbers. We can talk about percentages and tripling numbers since April, but here’s the problem. There’s the surge and it is undeniable, and yet you are denying it. And this is as close to open borders as we could possibly have. Don’t you think that’s going to be even more of a pull factor?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (57:09)
Senator, may I have a minute to answer your question?
Sen. Johnson: (57:14)
Again, is that going to be a pull factor or not?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (57:19)
Sen. Johnson: (57:19)
That’s kind of a yes or no answer.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (57:21)
You’ve asked a few questions.
Sen. Johnson: (57:22)
I haven’t really asked the questions. Let me ask you some questions. I want to go back to, I want to talk about the February 18th interim guidance to all ICE employees in terms of carrying out enforced removal priorities. First of all, was there any analysis regarding how the new priorities would impact crime and public safety before that guidance was issued?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (57:41)
Sen. Johnson: (57:42)
Can you provide us those documents, that analysis?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (57:44)
Senator, I have worked for 12 years as a federal prosecutor, I have been in the immigration enforcement areas.
Sen. Johnson: (57:50)
Would you provide us those documents? Will you provide me those documents, that analysis? Yes or no?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (57:56)
Yes I will.
Sen. Johnson: (57:57)
Okay, thank you. Was there any consultation or coordination with states regarding how the new guidelines would impact law enforcement and public safety?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (58:04)
Senator, one of the things that I’ve articulated in the promulgation of the guidelines that I will execute, is that I will engage with the workforce of immigration and customs.
Sen. Johnson: (58:15)
No, the question is, did you engage and coordinate with state governments prior to that guidance being issued? Yes or no?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (58:23)
Senator, I do not know what engagement proceeded me. I took office on February [crosstalk 00:58:29].
Sen. Johnson: (58:28)
Okay, can you check? And if there was, can you provide me that documentation. And finally, talking about states, we’re running out of time, I don’t want long answers. As local law enforcement is apprehending and holding illegal immigrants that they have flagged for removal, so we’ve got that group of people, is ICE issuing detainers on every one of those individuals that local law enforcement’s holding and that are flagging for removal?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (58:59)
I’m sure they’re not, and nor should they be.
Sen. Johnson: (59:03)
Can you tell me what percentage they would be issuing detainers on?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (59:07)
I don’t have that percentage, and I will get that to you as well.
Sen. Johnson: (59:10)
Okay, good. Thank you. My final question then is, because I was shocked when we were at the border. I’ve heard the word, we’ve become more efficient. Yeah, you’ve become more efficient at apprehending, processing, and dispersing. So I was shocked when we went down to the board and said that the guidelines for CBP is to literally process people in eight hours, and disperse them. Get them out of CBP custody and send them all over the country. I was also shocked to find out that we aren’t issuing notices to appear. What percentage of people are we dispersing around this country that don’t even have a notice to appear?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (59:51)
Senator, the individuals who arrive at our border and are placed in the interior, are subject to immigration proceedings, and they receive a notice to appear.
Sen. Johnson: (01:00:05)
So a hundred percent are receiving a notice to appear, that’s your testimony?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:00:09)
The policy of our administration is that each individual is placed into immigration proceedings and receives the notice.
Sen. Johnson: (01:00:16)
So you’re not aware that CBP has been directed not to provide notice to appear, as they’re dispersing people in the interior. That’s your testimony.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:00:24)
That is my testimony, because the process is that US Customs and Border Protection issues a notice to appear. And if in fact, they are operationally not able to do so, the individual receives a notice to appear at an immigration and customs enforcement office. Individuals in the interior are placed in immigration proceedings in accordance with enforcement law, period.
Sen. Johnson: (01:00:51)
I’ll be following up with that with the other information we’ve gotten. Thank you. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:00:56)
Thank you. Mr. Chairman, may I make a couple points that I didn’t have the opportunity to make? Because I didn’t have an opportunity.
Sen. Peters: (01:01:01)
Yes. No, it’s important to have these questions answered. so you may continue, secretary.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:01:05)
One of the things the Trump administration did was separate children from their parents. And they ripped sons and daughters out of the hands of fathers and mothers and said they would never see each other again. That’s one of the things, and maybe that worked, maybe it didn’t. But I’ll tell you what it didn’t work for, is the values and principles of this country, number one.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:01:35)
Speaker 4: (01:01:42)
This is not a hearing about the Trump administration. This is a hearing about the current administration.
Sen. Peters: (01:01:42)
Secretary, you may answer the question as you see fit, let’s have an open forum to discuss the issues before us. You may continue, Mr. Secretary.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:01:50)
Speaker 4: (01:01:52)
Questions from the Senator, [inaudible 01:01:53] to ask questions?
Sen. Peters: (01:01:54)
Well, you do have questions, but your questions take up the full seven minutes. We’d certainly like to have the secretary have an opportunity to answer these questions, senator. You may continue, secretary.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:02:03)
The only additional thing I will say is that our enforce- [crosstalk 01:02:11]
Sen. Peters: (01:02:11)
If you could answer the questions as they were asked, I’d appreciate it, Mr. Secretary.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:02:17)
The only other thing I would say is that our enforcement efforts are focused on smart and effective enforcement, that delivers the greatest public safety consequence. Thank you.
Sen. Peters: (01:02:29)
Thank you. Senator Rosen, you are recognized for your questions.
Sen. Rosen: (01:02:34)
Thank you, Chairman Peters. Ranking Member Portman, for holding this important hearing. Secretary Mayorkas, I really want to take this moment to thank you, commend you for your compassion and for your leadership navigating this critical moment, personally, professionally, and for the families that are going through this. Before I ask my question, I will allow you to use some of my time if you have anything additional you’d like to say. You can take that and then I can go into my questions, otherwise I can go straight in. Mr. Secretary.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:03:11)
Thank you very much for that courtesy, Senator. I look forward to your questions.
Sen. Rosen: (01:03:15)
Okay, thank you. I really just want to talk about building on what Senator Hassan talked about, child welfare and child welfare professionals, children in CBP custody. There’s poor conditions and the treatment hasn’t been good. And I worked with the last administration, trying to develop a plan to bring child welfare professionals to all CBP facilities, unfortunately the previous administration ignored my requests. And so to follow up on some of the recommendations proposed by child welfare advocates, are CBP facilities currently staff with medical professionals with pediatric experience and child welfare professionals to provide those other wrap around services that these children who are experiencing trauma, or other issues as Senator Hassan brought up. Do you have those folks at our facilities?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:04:15)
Senator, we do have individuals with those capabilities and that expertise at border patrol stations. Of course, in March, when we experienced such a great surge, we did not have the ratio that was optimal. Our focus has been on moving the children out of the border patrol station as rapidly as possible, to ensure that they are in the shelter and care of the Department of Health and Human Services that does indeed have a greater level of that expertise as appropriately should be the case.
Sen. Rosen: (01:04:51)
Thank you. I want to build on that. When we were working with the prior administration and they weren’t really listening to what we were trying to ask them to do, do NGOs currently have access to CBP facilities to assist and augment any care or programming that these children might need? The prior administration was not allowing that as well.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:05:13)
Senator, there is some access and that is one thing that we are taking a close look at. Because of course, when we were experiencing the greatest challenge that were operational capacity issues with respect to providing that access. But we believe that that access will strengthen the efficiency of the system in all regards. And it’s one of the areas that we are keenly focused on as we are improving and strengthening the process from beginning to end.
Sen. Rosen: (01:05:45)
Thank you. I’m going to move on. I know Senator Johnson talked about Title 42, and so I am pleased that the Biden administration took immediate actions to reverse several of the previous administration’s cruel and misguided policies. And I do remain concerned about the continuation of Title 42, that policy that the Trump administration used to expel migrants across the board, including children and families desperately attempting to come here for our asylum process. And so, are you concerned that Title 42 could still be a new source of family separation? It’s just so painful and making migrant parents make that painful decision to separate from their children in order for them to find safety in the United States. And what’s DHS doing to mitigate the risk of family separation while Title 42 is still in place?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:06:40)
Senator, we are certainly hearing anecdotally that some families self-separate to allow their children to enter the United States unaccompanied. That speaks to the trauma that these families have endured in their desperation to give their children a better life. Our exercise of Title 42 is the exercise of a public health authority to protect the American public with respect to COVID-19, as well as the migrants themselves. It’s an exercise of authority that rests with the CDC. The issue that your question addresses is something that we’re keenly focused upon.
Sen. Rosen: (01:07:29)
Thank you. I know the prior administration as well, when they were separating families, we are still concerned that the record keeping was not, I guess I’ll say, adequate. That’s how we will put that lightly and diplomatically. And so I want to be sure that if families are self-separating, if there’s separating going on, that we know where children go, where their parents go, because I never wanted to hear a story that some child could never find their parents again, or don’t know who they are. So can you let us know that you’re doing that, and how you’re doing that, because that’s keenly important to us.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:08:11)
Senator, I look forward to following up with you. I appreciate it.
Sen. Rosen: (01:08:15)
Thank you. And I’ll just follow one last thing on Title 42. We know that it, of course, because of COVID, that lies not within your department. Do you anticipate, with the vaccines becoming more available, that Title 42 might be rescinded soon? Do you have anything that you’d like to bring up about that for us?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:08:36)
Senator, I don’t have a timetable as I sit here today. I know that the Center for Disease Control looks at the public health landscape in determining whether its authorities need to continue to be exercised. And its responsibility is to look at that public health imperative and make that decision, and that falls within its jurisdiction.
Sen. Rosen: (01:09:04)
I know in my last 30 seconds, I’ll take the responses to these off the record, but we know that some migrants were removed by a tent court process. They really weren’t given a fair process. Are you considering, we’ll take this off the record, allowing those individuals to re-present their cases. And some of those cases also that were the MPP program that remained in Mexico, they were closed. Are you considering opening these tent court and these MPP cases? And I’ll take those off the record to allow the next Senator to speak.
Sen. Peters: (01:09:39)
Well thank you, Senator Rosen. Senator Lankford, you are recognized for your question.
Sen. Lankford: (01:09:43)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Secretary Mayorkas, thanks for being here. The last time you were here several months ago, during the process of the nomination I asked you about the border wall. You said you were studying that, would study it, understand the administration called for a study that was completed the 21st of March. None of us have seen the results of that study, though there was a press release that came out of your office saying that there were now-
Sen. Lankford: (01:10:03)
… study. That there was a press release that came out of your office saying that there were now protecting the border communities from the wall at this point. When I was down at the border area, you’ve been down there as well a couple of times, thanks for doing that. In Arizona, this is what I saw. The day that border wall construction stopped, miles and miles of wall with the gates incomplete, this seems to be the status that we’re still at, this is nonsensical. As you know, the border patrol now has to park a vehicle right there next to that gap because on the other side of this fence is a city of 450,000 people from the Arizona side into Mexico. So my question to you is, what’s the results of the study on the border wall completion? There’s $1.4 million that was passed with a bipartisan majority last year that is in the law to be able to complete this, where’s this going?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:10:49)
Thank you, senator. Two things if I may, number one, we have committed to finishing the levies as well as addressing the erosion of land under roads adjacent to the wall. As two public health imperatives, we have made that decision and we are studying the very issue that you identify here about what is the most effective way to address gates and the completion of gates as well as the closing of gaps, that is something that is under review now.
Sen. Lankford: (01:11:24)
So this requires a review to be able to evaluate if should just hang the gate when the steel is sitting right there, if that should be complete?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:11:31)
The review is indeed underway.
Sen. Lankford: (01:11:33)
What would be the challenge here? I would tell you, people in my state, and myself included, when I went and looked at it, I don’t understand what needs a review to be able to evaluate if you just have to be able to close the gate, especially when the law already has set aside those dollars and it’s already there. Let me follow up on a couple of things. You’d given testimony about the notice to appear. We understand there’s been 19,000 individuals that have crossed the border of this calendar year that were not given a notice to appear, are you saying that’s incorrect?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:12:01)
Senator, I’m not aware of that number. But let me, if I may, say that it is our policy to issue a notice to appear to individuals who are permitted entry into the United States to make their claim. Ideally, they are issued the notice to appear at the border patrol station. If we are not able to do that, the objective is to issue them a notice to appear at the immigration and customs enforcement office to which they are directed. There was a time when we were unable to issue certain notices to appear and place those individuals immediately in immigration proceedings.
Sen. Lankford: (01:12:43)
So our understanding is from being down in Texas, in Arizona, talking to some of the folks on the ground, we have the number of 19,000 individuals have been released in the country without a notice to appear. They’re told to go to an ICE office, wherever they’re going in the country to self-report at the ICE office. Basically turned themselves in there at ICE and ask for a notice to appear. Do you know of any that have actually done that? Do you have a number of 19,000 that have been asked to do that? How many have actually done that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:13:11)
I can get that number to you because we have seen a high rate. And I should say that individuals who do not appear are a priority of ours for apprehension in the service of border security.
Sen. Lankford: (01:13:25)
So I understand those are family units that are coming in or it’s a parent with a child, at least one child at that point that they’re told to be able to do that. The notice to appear that are being given out right now, do they comply with the previous Supreme Court orders that have been done to be able to make sure that they’re consistent and they will stand up under the rule of law?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:13:42)
I believe they do. And I will confirm that senator.
Sen. Lankford: (01:13:46)
Please do because we have several Supreme Court rulings recently that have given greater clarity to those NTAs. I want to make sure that we’re actually not giving us something that will violate the court in that. Speaking of court, there was a court order that was done from Tipton about the moratorium. A 100 day moratorium was announced to not deport individuals even if a court had said they have a final order of removal. The Biden administration announced that, a federal court in Texas immediately said, “No, you can’t just do that.” In the meantime, since that’s occurred, if I’m tracking this numbers correctly, ICE removals have fallen anyway by 50% from January to April of this year and by 70% from October to April of this year. So I want to ask you, are you complying with the federal court order that rule that you can’t just stop you have to continue to be able to remove people that have a final order removal?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:14:36)
We are complying with the court order. Senator, the policy was promulgated at the outset that there would be a pause on removals to enable the administration to review the policies. The court did in fact enjoin that pause and the pause was indeed lifted and new guidelines were issued.
Sen. Lankford: (01:15:00)
It’s a pretty stark drop in removals though that’s already happened this year. Also the policy seems to be for ICE removals and for enforcement priorities. It seems to be a pretty high criteria at this point for removal of individuals. And if they’re not on the predetermined list to be able to be removed, they have to go get permission in advance to be able to remove someone. ICE informed my staff on April the eighth of this year that enforcement action directed at sex offenders that do not meet the aggregated felony criteria will require pre-approval from the field office director or special agent in charge. So my question is about this, can you share with us say the number of sex offenders that ICE has declined to deport this year because they did not meet that criteria?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:15:46)
It is my view that individuals who commit sex offenses should be apprehended and removed.
Sen. Lankford: (01:15:55)
Why is there a special request to get pre-approval before you actually address that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:16:01)
Senator, allow me to explain the process because I have yet to issue my enforcement and removal priorities, and I intend to do so after engaging with the ICE workforce, hearing from our personnel on the front lines, as well as other stakeholders.
Sen. Lankford: (01:16:20)
Well, I would tell you there is a real concern about the additional hoops that people have to go through, which seems to discourage them. And we see that in the numbers, the 50% drop. Let me ask you about Title 42 because when I was at the border, that was a major concern of folks on what to do on Title 42. You and I spoke about this last time that you were here saying that you’re going to study it and try to examine what to do on this. There’s a significant number of people, in fact, of the 178,000 people that were encountered at the border last month, 111,000, almost 112,000 of them were turned around due to Title 42. The question is, how are you examining what’s your criteria for dropping Title 42? And what’s your plan? Because if you drop Title 42 at this point, there’s 112,000 more people that are actually engaging across the border.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:17:07)
Senator, Title 42 is the CDC’s public health authority.
Sen. Lankford: (01:17:11)
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:17:12)
It is not a tool of immigration, it is a tool of public health. And therefore the use of Title 42 will be governed by the CDC’s analysis of the public health imperative.
Sen. Lankford: (01:17:25)
But is that the public health imperative in Mexico or in the United States?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:17:28)
It is the public health imperative with respect to the protection of the American people.
Sen. Lankford: (01:17:33)
So that would be where they’re coming from, if they’re coming across the border from Mexico, the health status there?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:17:40)
I can’t speak to the precise analysis that the CDC undertakes, and I’d be very pleased to follow up with them.
Sen. Lankford: (01:17:50)
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the additional time on that. This is a very important issue that we started a couple of months ago that we still have to get clarity on how that’s going to be handled. Because this is a very serious issue of how those individuals that are currently being returned, what happens next. Thank you.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:18:04)
Thank you, senator.
Chairman Peters: (01:18:04)
Thank you, Senator Lankford. Senator Romney, you are recognized for your questions.
Sen. Romney: (01:18:11)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I must admit that I have found this hearing to be stunning in that it seems Mr. Secretary that you’re proud of the progress being made by the administration, that things are going well at the border. I look at this chart that was prepared by Senator Johnson and I see an extraordinary crisis. Do you recognize this as an alarming crisis?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:18:42)
Senator, I look at immigration as a challenge that has been persistent for many, many years.
Sen. Romney: (01:18:48)
Of course. But we were running along here and now we’re seeing apprehensions at the border that has skyrocketed. And just as alarming, perhaps even more so, was the chart that came from Senator Portman, which is unaccompanied children who are being led into the country explosion. Is this not a massive failure that would suggest that the administration needs to take immediate action to remedy what’s what we’re seeing here?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:19:19)
Senator, we have taken immediate action with respect to the unaccompanied children. And we’ve-
Sen. Romney: (01:19:24)
Is the number coming down?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:19:28)
We are addressing that challenge with increasing efficiency every single day.
Sen. Romney: (01:19:33)
Increasing efficiency to get them moved to other parts of the country and with families and out of these crowded facilities, I understand that, I’m delighted that we’re not having kids sleeping on floors and in cages, totally. But the number coming into our country and being released into our country is at skyrocketed level as is this. The question is, do you have plans to do something dramatically different such that those numbers come down to an acceptable level? Because you can imagine this overwhelms our border patrol agents. If they’ve got numbers like this they’re dealing with, this means that the drug cartels can be smuggling through drugs because our folks are taking care of kids, they’re taking care of people coming in illegally. Do we have plans to dramatically address what’s happening here?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:20:20)
Two points if I may, Senator, both of which are extremely important. The laws of our country provide certain procedures and certain rights for children who arrive unaccompanied and have claims of asylum, who claim fear of persecution by reason of their membership in a particular social group.
Sen. Romney: (01:20:40)
I understand that.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:20:41)
We have an obligation.
Sen. Romney: (01:20:43)
But we were turning those kids away under Title 42 and the new administration came in and said, “We won’t turn them away, we’ll let them come in.” And I presume as a result of that, the numbers went through the roof.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:20:56)
Senator, we are addressing the numbers consistent with the law under the trafficking victims-
Sen. Romney: (01:21:02)
Well, propose a new law. We have a crisis both for children. You talk about the humanitarian concerns of kids that come here and I understand we’ve addressed that.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:21:12)
These are children.
Sen. Romney: (01:21:13)
But you’re addressing that their children. Think of them coming here all the way from Honduras, think of the trail of going across the entire country of Mexico to get here and then not being able to come into the country. Yeah, let’s put this up.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:21:25)
Sen. Romney: (01:21:25)
This is a crisis for children. The fact that these kids are coming here and making that kind of journey and they’re not going to be allowed to stay in this country.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:21:38)
Senator, if I may. We’re the United States of America. 90% of these children have a parent or legal guardian in the United States and they have a claim of fear of persecution.
Sen. Romney: (01:21:52)
So this is not problem then. Your view is that this is the way it’s going to be.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:21:58)
If I may, Senator. They have a claim under the law for humanitarian relief, either their claim of asylum or their claim for special immigrant juvenile status. And we can in fact meet the challenge in a humanitarian-
Sen. Romney: (01:22:16)
What I find astonishing Mr. Chairman, is that we have the secretary responsible for securing our border and our immigration system who doesn’t recognize these charts as being a problem. And they are human beings behind these numbers, and he’s not saying, “Hey, we’ve got to make some changes immediately.” I find that extraordinary and extremely damning. Let me turn to a different topic. And that is some years ago, immigration was, well, if you will, the huddled masses yearning to be free. And we were encountering people who wanted to come to this country and we were able to offer them hope for a better life. Today, increasingly much of what we’re seeing here is a result of cartels that have learned how to take advantage of current law in the United States to defeat our systems and not provide the people that are being brought here the opportunity that they were seeking.
Sen. Romney: (01:23:14)
I think there’s an urgent need to rethink our immigration system to make sure that we recognize we’re dealing with a different circumstance in many cases than we were before. A discussion of root causes, we need to address the root causes in Latin America. Gosh, we got root causes in our own country, we’ve got challenges here we can’t solve, we’ve been working on for years. There are countries around the world who have problems. We can’t solve all the problems of the world, let alone the problems in Latin America and the problems here in our country. Do agree with this, that we have to focus on enforcing our border, finishing the border barrier, using the technology? By the way, if it’s technology, use technology. But somehow deal with this in an urgent and aggressive manner.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:24:02)
Senator, we are indeed focused on securing our border, and in fact, using technology as the most effective or one of the most effective ways of doing it, number one. Number two, I do agree with you that we do need change in the law, and that’s precisely why I hope that Congress does indeed pass immigration reform. And thirdly, these are people yearning to be free. And what the cartels do unfortunately is to often control the means by which they arrive not the reasons why they flee and why they seek humanitarian relief in the United States under the laws that Congress passed many, many years ago.
Sen. Romney: (01:24:51)
You indicated last time we were together that you would study E-Verify. Senator Portman and I, among others have proposed a mandatory E-Verify system in our country, do you believe that’s a good idea? Of Florida is using that effectively, should we have an E-Verify system for our country that’s mandatory?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:25:10)
Senator, I believe in E-Verify, I think it is an effective tool. Its effectiveness grew under my administration as a director of US-
Sen. Romney: (01:25:19)
Should it be mandatory so that businesses are required to check the legal status of people they’re hiring?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:25:24)
Whether it should or should not be mandatory is actually something that I have not yet determined.
Sen. Romney: (01:25:30)
I look forward to that determination. Thank you.
Chairman Peters: (01:25:34)
Thank you, Senator Romney. I have a quick question because I think we should notice as a committee, Senator Romney talked about the number of apprehensions that are occurring right now. That chart, if you could help me, because when I was down at the border I understand that we’re apprehending a lot of folks from Mexico, single adults who are coming across, they’re being expelled from the country, but then they come back in a few days. You catch them, they go back, is that reflected in those numbers? Can you give some clarity to us if you have an opportunity to see that chart?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:26:05)
So it’s very difficult for me to see. And forgive me with my diminishing vision. But I do understand your question. What is likely measured is the number of encounters, and the number of encounters probably includes a great deal of duplication because there is recidivism, thank you, there is recidivism. When an individual is expelled under Title 42, a single adult, we have seen that same individual return only to be expelled again. And that’s one of the things that we’re looking at in terms of a consequence regime.
Sen. Carper: (01:26:42)
Mr. Chairman, I’ve got all the numbers. I’d like to enter them in the record. In the second round of questioning, I’ll spout some of those things off.
Chairman Peters: (01:26:47)
Okay, that’s fine. Senator Carper. You’re recognized for your questions.
Sen. Carper: (01:26:51)
Thanks. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us, for your past service to our country, and your current service and your leadership. How would you like to take a minute of time to respond to any questions you didn’t have a chance to respond to?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:27:05)
I thank you for the opportunity. I look forward to your questions.
Sen. Carper: (01:27:06)
All right, thanks. A number of us had the privilege of traveling to the Northern triangle countries, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador repeatedly in bipartisan groups. I hope to be part of one of those later this year and look forward to some of the members of this committee joining me at that time. We are reminded in scripture that when I was a stranger in your, did you welcome me? We’re reminded in [inaudible 01:27:35] which actually reflects and mirrors I think very much the message in Matthew 25 that says, I think Matthew 25 is a moral obligation that we have to the least of these, including people are trying escape violence and crime and corruption, lack of opportunity, which we are implicit in. We’re implicit in by virtue of our addiction to illegal drugs that are trafficked through these countries, we’re implicit in their misery. And the question is, what are we going to do about it? I would suggest that what we do about it is walk and chew gum at the same time.
Sen. Carper: (01:28:10)
We’ve got some charts here that indicate what’s been going on at CBP in terms of how long we’re holding kids and so forth. Let’s see, average number of hours, children in CBP custody, what was it in March 28th? 133 hours. What was it on May the 11th? 26 hours in CBP custody, that’s a reduction of 80%, that’s improvement. Do you have another chart? Number of children in the CBP custody on March 28th, 5,767 children were in CBP custody, almost 6,000. May 10th, what is that, two days ago? We had 455 children in CBP custody, that’s a reduction of 92%. That’s an improvement, that’s a marked improvement. And I just want to say to you, but particularly the folks at CBP, the Department of Health and Human Services, whose work has making this possible and this progress possible, good work.
Sen. Carper: (01:29:12)
If we want to do something about these charts we’ve been shown by our colleagues with the most recent surge, we can do something about that my friends, we can do something about that. Three primary reasons why people are coming out of these countries to try to get up here. Number one, lack of opportunity and hope. Number two, crime and violence. Number three, corruption. We created something called the Alliance for Prosperity a number of years ago, the idea that we would put money into fighting those three ills, crime and violence, corruption, lack of economic opportunity. The idea was that we would provide some money and in return each of these countries would provide money, a lot more than we were going to provide. Number two, that we’re going to try to leverage money from other countries to help out in these three areas. To leverage money from NGOs, to work and focus on these three areas.
Sen. Carper: (01:30:21)
The most recent trip I took was down to the borders of Cordell about a month ago. We saw some indication that this kind of progress could be realized. I just want to take my hat off to CBP folks, the men and women down in the border doing this work every day. I just want to take my hand off to folks from HHS who are taking the hand off and try to do difficult work, important work, but in compliance with Flores. Let me ask Mr. Chairman. How important is it? And then I’m going to ask to be very brief in your responses. We have not had a US ambassador in Honduras for four years, four years. No confirmed US ambassador in Honduras for four years. We’ve don’t have a US and confirmed ambassador in El Salvador right now.
Sen. Carper: (01:31:12)
We have a pretty good ambassador, I’ve talked to him just this past week. Highly regarded, I think he’s doing a good job. But if we want to do something about changing these numbers, why don’t we confirm, why don’t we get some, from this new administration, they’ve had a chance to get their feet wet now. We need them to nominate a career ambassador, and we need to hold speedy hearings, vet them, and vote them up or down.
Sen. Carper: (01:31:39)
I think that one of the best things that we can do is put in place career ambassadors with Senate confirmation, Senate support. As much as anything, we need to make sure that they’re surrounded by terrific staff in the embassies in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They need to be the counterbalance to all the thugs and the crooks and the criminals down there that are using drug money that we provide to continue to screw up those countries. That’s the first thing we can do. Second thing we can do. And I think let me direct my question, actually I’m going to ask a question. The ability for whether young people or not so young people to apply for asylum within their own countries, at our embassies, at our consulates, is that something that we’re doing a satisfactory job in doing? And if not, is there something that we on our side need to do to make that possible?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:32:27)
Thank you very much, Senator Carper. We’re very focused on that. As I articulated at the very outset in my opening remarks, we have a three prong approach to address the root causes, to build legal pathways, and to advocate for, with the hope that Congress will pass, immigration reform. And with respect to that second prong, I think that’s what your question goes to, the building of legal pathways. If we can in fact adjudicate claims in the countries of origin or in truly safe places, then we will spare children the perilous journey North.
Sen. Carper: (01:33:07)
Why is it important for the Congress to take up and actually debate and pass comprehensive immigration from, why is that important in this debate today?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:33:16)
I think we all agree the one thing that there is unanimity about is the fact that our current system is absolutely broken and we can provide fixes through the legislation that has been proposed and is pending.
Sen. Carper: (01:33:36)
Let me say to my colleagues, I’m not surprised but disappointed with the tenor of this hearing today. There’s a problem here that needs to be addressed, there are a bunch of problems that need to be addressed. And our pointing fingers at one another and one administration or the other, that ain’t going to solve the problems. There’s some things we can do and need to do, and if we’ll follow up and work together across the aisle and with this new administration, we can make great progress. We can turn this out, turn this around, and I want to do that, and I want to do it with all of you. Thank you.
Chairman Peters: (01:34:12)
Thank you, Senator Carper. I think hopefully all of us will come together because these are serious issues that we need to deal with. Senator Scott, you are recognized for your questions.
Sen. Scott: (01:34:21)
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:34:23)
Sen. Scott: (01:34:24)
First off, I’m appreciative that you’re trying to do your job with compassion. I don’t think any of this is easy. I think everybody that’s involved in border security is having a very difficult time. I had the opportunity to go down to the Arizona border with Governor Ducey. And when I went, what actually shocked me was we did an aerial tour and they had the wall, and you’ve heard all the stories, Senator Lankford brought it up, that they just didn’t put up the gates, they just stopped. If you talk to people around the country, they look at that and say, “Why would that happen?” Then a lot of people have said we need to use new technology. They had the lights and cameras up and they, listen, you’ve talked to border patrol, they just didn’t electrify it just stopped. Right after January 20th, they just stopped.
Sen. Scott: (01:35:17)
When you look at this, you say there’s no logic to this. I know we want to be a compassionate country and we are a compassionate country, but we also have drugs come across our border, we have sometimes criminals come across the border, and we have wonderful people that want to come here and live our dreams. So when you and I talked before your confirmation, one thing you committed to me is you’re always going to enforce the law. Do you believe that you and your agency are enforcing the existing immigration laws?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:35:49)
Yes we are.
Sen. Scott: (01:35:50)
And there’s none that you have any concern are not being enforced?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:35:53)
I believe that we are enforcing the laws in a smart and effective way. And actually we will do so smarter and more effectively as the days and weeks progress, and I am very focused on that. I’m looking forward to actually meeting with the ICE workforce in the coming days to hear from them as frontline personnel, to learn of their experiences, to inform the guidelines that I intend to promulgate.
Sen. Scott: (01:36:23)
So you’ve seen this chart, the unbelievable increase in apprehensions and also the chart that show how many unaccompanied minors. Are you disappointed that President Biden and Vice President Harris have not taken the time to come to the border to see firsthand what a lot of us have seen? That there’s clearly a crisis that we have to, and you’ve said, there are things we have to address. Are you disappointed that President Biden and Vice President Harris have not taken the time to come to the border?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:36:53)
Absolutely not. What the president and the vice-president have done is directed me to address the challenges at the border, which are within my responsibility as the secretary of homeland security. And I have visited the border on multiple occasions thus far.
Sen. Scott: (01:37:11)
As I’ve talked to sheriffs in Florida, what they’re seeing since Joe Biden’s integration is an unbelievable increase in fentanyl coming into Florida. And the only thing they can say is it has to be it’s coming across the border. So according to CBP data, drug seizures are down significantly this year. Do you think the record low drug seizures are because our CBP agents and their resources are being diverted to manage the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:37:40)
No. Our interdiction efforts continue effectively. Senator, we have a multi-tiered approach to the interdiction of drugs, contraband, and dangerous individuals. We take great pride in the capabilities of the men and women of the United States Border Patrol, and quite frankly, in the actions that I have taken. We launched operation Sentinel to elevate and accelerate those actions. And as Senator Portman well knows, I overcame delays that proceeded me in the promulgation of critical regulations to effect the STOP Act, which was a tremendous tool for law enforcement.
Sen. Scott: (01:38:27)
Why would seizures would be down then? If all this happening, why are seizures…? It’s the data that’s coming out of the administration
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:38:34)
Senator, I’d like to review the data that you have and exchange data because our interdiction efforts are quite effective. And regrettably, we are interdicting a great deal of contraband that predominantly does not come in between the ports of entry, historically has come through the ports of entry in hidden compartments of vehicles. Our technology is tremendous and the traffickers also use air assets, marine assets that we are interdicting as well.
Sen. Scott: (01:39:06)
Sure. Does DHS feel like it has a duty to remove illegally aliens convicted of serious crimes like sexually assaulting a child or manufacturing illegal drugs?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:39:20)
Sen. Scott: (01:39:21)
And is that happening?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:39:22)
Sen. Scott: (01:39:29)
Can you commit that those individuals that are being released for future court dates, like you talked about earlier, are clearly going to be deported if their asylum claims are rejected?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:39:40)
I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?
Sen. Scott: (01:39:41)
So if somebody’s come in and they’ve been released all right, but their asylum claim is rejected, are they’re clearly going to be deported?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:39:49)
They are subject to removal, yes.
Sen. Scott: (01:39:51)
Are they going to be?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:39:52)
As far as I know, yes.
Sen. Scott: (01:39:54)
Do you think it’s happening now?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:39:56)
I believe so. What I think we need to focus on quite frankly, Senator, and this is something I spoke to earlier, is addressing the asylum system and strengthening and improving it. So individuals who are actually eligible for relief and deserving of relief receive it in a reasonable period of time and those who do not, the adjudications are delivered in a reasonable period of time. Which is a problem that has plagued the asylum system for years and years and years.
Sen. Scott: (01:40:31)
So going back to the wall and the technology that’s not being connected to electricity, why is that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:40:41)
So Senator, we approach this in a very methodical and reasonable fashion in my opinion. Which is the border wall in many respects was not the most effective use of taxpayer dollars to secure the border. The paradigm that had bipartisan support, certainly when I served as a deputy secretary, was a paradigm of different types of assets brought to meet the challenge. Physical barriers that were in existence, the use of technology, and harnessing innovation to really be force multipliers, as well as, of course, the brave and heroic men and women of the United States Border Patrol. It is that three part effort that is most effective.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:41:28)
So the methodology that was designed and is being implemented is let’s put a pause on the construction of the border wall, let’s assess what is actually needed to be completed, for example, the levies and the road erosion that we in fact have committed to, and let’s take a look and see what does deserve and need to be continued and what really should be stopped. So we’re taking a look at the gates, the gaps, the, the deployment of sensors in those parts that have been completed, and what is reasonable to complete in the judicious exercise of taxpayer dollars, and so that’s what we’re doing.
Sen. Scott: (01:42:16)
It sounds really good, just looking from the outside it looks sort of crazy. The money has been committed, the wall’s up, the gates just to go up, or the lights and the cameras are all there and just not… It just doesn’t seem logical to the American public.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:42:33)
I respectfully disagree, senator. I think it’s a logical way to approach. And if we can actually save the expenditure of dollars on something that should not be the subject of expenditures, it’d be terrific if we can forestall that and use those funds more effectively in a different way.
Chairman Peters: (01:42:51)
Thank you, Senator Scott. Senator Hawley, you are recognized for your questions.
Sen. Hawley: (01:42:56)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thanks for being here, Mr. Secretary. I want to talk about the policies that have gotten us to where we are with our effectively open border. But let me first ask you about this, you said as recently as this week that the border is closed, is that still your position today, borders is closed?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:43:11)
Yes, it is.
Sen. Hawley: (01:43:12)
Don’t you think you bear any responsibility for the current crisis by telling the world earlier this year that the border was open? Your words were, “We’re not telling you not to come, we’re just telling you that we’re putting a system back in place in which you can come.” Don’t you think people took your words at face value then?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:43:28)
Senator, I’ve never said that the border is open and I’ve never-
Sen. Hawley: (01:43:31)
We’re not telling you not to come, how would you parse that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:43:34)
Senator, I’ve never said that the border is open and I’ve never believed that it should be an open border. We have laws that Congress has passed that are laws of accountability and also laws of humanitarian relief.
Sen. Hawley: (01:43:48)
You did say that we’re not telling you not to come though, right? You said that, you remember that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:43:55)
I’m sorry, senator, I apologize.
Sen. Hawley: (01:43:57)
You remember saying don’t you that we’re not telling you not to come? Those are your words that you said in a press conference, you said that, right?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:44:05)
I don’t recall saying that. I don’t believe-
Sen. Hawley: (01:44:07)
You don’t recall saying that?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:44:08)
That’s correct senator. I have never said-
Sen. Hawley: (01:44:11)
We’d be happy to refresh your memory for you and some questions for the… I’m sure that is interesting news and I’m sure everyone will. The secretary has just said he doesn’t have any memory of making those comments, that’s extraordinary.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:44:22)
Senator, I have never said that the border is open.
Sen. Hawley: (01:44:27)
Let me ask you about this. CBP data says that the agency had 170,000 enforcement encounters at the Southern border in April, this is the highest in two decades. Of that total, what percentage were subject to immediate expulsion?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:44:40)
I will get that data to you. I don’t have that at my disposal this morning.
Sen. Hawley: (01:44:44)
Is it 100%? Is it 60%? Is it 20%? Do you have any idea?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:44:50)
100% of families and single adults are subject to expulsion except for those with acute vulnerabilities, and we exercise…
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:45:03)
…For those with acute vulnerabilities. And we exercise that discretion. However, our ability to actually expel families under CDC’s Title 42 authority is limited by, for example, Mexico’s ability and capacity, I should say, to receive the expelled families. And that is what we are addressing as a result.
Sen. Hawley: (01:45:27)
Okay. I think the numbers around 60% or so are subject to immediate expulsion. Which means we have a very large percentage of migrants who were permitted entry into the United States and are still here. But we’ll give that question, again, to you for the record so that you can go and look it up.
Sen. Hawley: (01:45:42)
Let me ask you this. Why is it that… This week, actually late last night, it was reported that CBP terminated a flight program that transferred families across the southern border for purposes of expelling them under Title 42. These flights were apparently canceled due to the pressure of left-wing groups. Is that accurate?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:46:04)
Senator, we make our decisions as we consider it to be most effective in furtherance of our mission and not because of pressure by outside groups. I’d be pleased to look into the cancellation of the lateral flights and respond to you after I’ve done so.
Sen. Hawley: (01:46:21)
So you’re telling me here that the ACLU had no role in the termination of these expulsion flights? Is that your testimony?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:46:27)
Senator, we are addressing the claims of the ACLU. The ACLU has claimed that our exercise of the CDC’s Title 42 authority is not supported by the law. And we are working with the ACLU… Actually, adverse to the ACLU-
Sen. Hawley: (01:46:45)
You’re working with them now?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:46:47)
If I may, Senator, we are adverse to the ACLU-
Sen. Hawley: (01:46:51)
But you’re working with them in this program? Is that why you canceled it?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:46:54)
If I may finish. Senator, we are adverse to the ACLU in litigation with respect to the legal authority underpinning our exercise of the CDC’s Title 42 authority.
Sen. Hawley: (01:47:11)
Right. But they had a role in terminating this? You’re working with them in determination of these expulsion flights?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:47:20)
Senator, the decisions with respect to expulsion flights are ours because of the decisions that we have made based on the reasons that we think are necessary to execute on our mission.
Sen. Hawley: (01:47:33)
Uh-huh (affirmative). Well, I think the fact that you’re working with them is interesting news. So that’s also quite relevant. We’ll give you this information as a question for the record.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:47:42)
Senator, they’re suing us and we’re defendants. That’s not what I-
Sen. Hawley: (01:47:45)
I’m just quoting back what you just said. You just said that we’re working with them. The news reports indicate that you’ve canceled these overflight, these flights rather, at their behest. You and I both know that there can be such a thing as friendly litigation, Mr. Secretary. Let’s not pretend otherwise. I’m just repeating your own words to you. We’ll give this to you as a question for the record so that you can look into it more further. I think that’s interesting news.
Sen. Hawley: (01:48:07)
Let me ask you about why you canceled the Safe Third Agreements with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. These are agreements negotiated by the previous administration that the president canceled once he came into office. The president says that he’s in a valid multi-laterals and yet one of the first things he did was to tear up these international agreements with other countries. How can you address the root causes of migration as you keep talking about if you’re going to tear up international agreements that try to address these problems?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:48:38)
So I will answer your question and make one comment before I do. So I’ve been a lawyer now for 35 or so years. Friendly litigation is a phenomenon with which I’m completely unfamiliar.
Sen. Hawley: (01:48:52)
Really? You’re not familiar… Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You’re not familiar with an outside group bringing litigation against the government that the government then it seeds to in order to change the law? You’ve never heard of that phenomenon?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:49:04)
Senator, I’m not familiar with friendly litigation as a federal prosecutor. I was a strong advocate for the United States government in the pursuit of criminals accountability.
Sen. Hawley: (01:49:14)
You’ve never heard on the… Wait, this is interesting. And you’ve just brought it up. You’ve never heard of a regulatory lawsuits in which outside groups bring suits against the federal government, the government then agrees to settle the suit or to change its rules, and it reaches a settlement that is favor that the government actually wants to achieve? You’ve never heard of that before?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:49:33)
Senator, I’ve heard of resolutions of litigation, I’ve heard of settlements of litigation, I’ve heard of arbitration, I’ve heard of mediation. Friendly litigation, the commencement of friendly litigation is something with which I’m unfamiliar. The reason why-
Sen. Hawley: (01:49:50)
This is extraordinary
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:49:51)
…The reason why the Safe Third Country Agreements were terminated is because there was nothing safe about them.
Sen. Hawley: (01:49:58)
I’m sorry. By which, you mean what?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:50:02)
Senator, to have an individual fleeing persecution from Guatemala and considering Honduras Safe Third Country is actually empirically incorrect. Because, and we can take a look at the migration from Honduras and the number of people leaving Honduras for fear of persecution. And that is not our concept of a Safe Third Country.
Sen. Hawley: (01:50:33)
It’s not your concept. So you think it’s wise policy to come into office to terminate these international agreements based on your judgment about these other countries, without consultation with them, apparently, and then we see this massive spike? Would you say that the children who have come to the United States and have gone through the border crossing have had to pay to who-knows-what for the cartel are more safe because of your actions? Do you think that you’ve put them in less danger because the agreements that you terminated and the opportunities to seek asylum and then wait in a third country you’ve denied to them? Do you think that your actions have made the situation better?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:51:05)
Chairman Peters: (01:51:06)
Senator, you’ve gone over your time, but-
Sen. Hawley: (01:51:08)
Can I get an answer to that question then I’ll stop?
Chairman Peters: (01:51:09)
Yes. Absolutely. Senator, he may answer that question but be respectful of our three other members that are waiting.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:51:15)
The Safe Third Country Agreements, in my opinion, put children in harm’s way.
Chairman Peters: (01:51:21)
Thank you, Senator Holly. Senator Ossoff, you are recognized for your questions.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:51:26)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks to you in the ranking member for holding this hearing. And thank you Mr. Secretary for joining us today and for your testimony. Mr. Secretary, on March 12th of this year, the federal district court for the District of Columbia blocked ICE from destroying records related to detainee’s sexual abuse and assault, records related to the death of detainees in ICE custody, records related to solitary confinement and other punitive measures imposed on ICE detainees, and other materials under a plan that has been approved by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:52:02)
Last month, members of Congress wrote a letter urging DHS to reconsider its document destruction plans and policies in light of that March District Court Decision. And the letter explained that, quote, “For Congress to effectively perform its oversight and legislative functions, it is essential that the government permanently retain records reflecting serious abuse, neglect, and misconduct.”
Sen. Ossoff: (01:52:28)
In fact, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has attempted to collect exactly these types of records from ICE, going back to October of 2019, only to have the agency continually delay its production of those requested records and misrepresent the completeness of the response. And many documents responsive to the permanent subcommittee on investigations request are still outstanding today.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:52:53)
Mr. Secretary, will you commit to a reappraisal of any DHS document destruction plans or policies that could impact the treatment of materials related to mistreatment of ICE detainees? And will you, please, commit now to ensure that ICE, fully and immediately, produces all records requested by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:53:15)
I do, Senator.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:53:17)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate that commitment. I’d like to ask you about the use of private companies in the immigration detention system, please. The Trump administration dramatically expanded the use of private companies in immigration detention. As of January of last year, ICE held 81% of detainees in its custody in privately-owned or managed facilities. At the same time, detainees in these facilities have reported sexual abuse, unsanitary conditions, substandard medical treatment, and worse, including recent allegations in Irwin County, Georgia, of unnecessary and extreme medical procedures performed on female detainees.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:54:03)
The president’s criminal justice plan during his campaign stated that the federal government, quote, “Should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of immigration detainees. Mr. Secretary, as the administration moves to discontinue the use of privately-run federal prisons, what steps is your department taking to end the use of privately-run immigration detention facilities?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:54:29)
Senator, let me share with you, if I may, what I have done and what I am doing. I have read extensively about the use of detention and civil immigration proceedings as well as the conditions of detention in civil immigration proceedings. I’ve read accountability reports by the office of inspector general, our own office for civil rights and civil liberties. We now have a detention ombudsman, a office of detention ombudsman. And I’ve read reports by non-governmental organizations. I am very focused on the use of detention and civil immigration proceedings, as well as the conditions in those facilities. And I intend to begin taking action very quickly.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:55:16)
Can you specify any steps that have been affirmatively taken to end the use of privately-run immigration detention facilities?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:55:26)
Senator, I’m going to be speaking with my workforce about my findings in my intentions. I’ve begun that dialogue and I would appreciate the opportunity to continue those discussions and take the actions that I think will be responsive to your concerns.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:55:44)
Thank you. We’ll follow up on that in short order and hope to see some progress and some affirmative steps that you’ll have taken. I’d like to ask you about surveillance footage at DHS and specifically ICE detention facilities. I’d a conversation with the director of the Bureau of Prisons, director Carvajal at a hearing last month.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:56:06)
And the BOP shared with my staff, pursuant to some requests for information that I had made, that federal prisons only retain surveillance footage for 14 days before purging that footage to create space for new data. And recognizing that BOP administration is far outside of your purview, that appears to me to be a totally inadequate duration of retention of those records.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:56:35)
Given the scope of alleged detainee abuse and indeed corroborated reports of detainee abuse and substandard conditions at ICE detention facilities, I have similar questions about the retention of surveillance footage at those facilities. In May, 2018, for example, a detainee died at a hospital shortly after entering ICE custody in New Mexico, but the private contractor running the detention facility deleted surveillance footage which could have clarified the circumstances of that death.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:57:05)
So, Mr. Secretary, my question for you is, does ICE impose uniform surveillance footage retention policies on the private contractors who operate ICE detention facilities?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:57:17)
Senators, I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ll have to follow up.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:57:21)
I’d be grateful for that answer for the record. And on a related note, Mr. Secretary, and ICE internal document was reported in 2019 to call for, quote, “An internal review of all facility inspection records for detention facilities after the death of a detainee in ICE custody.” Are you aware, Mr. Secretary, whether ICE procedures require a detention facility to immediately preserve and share up the chain of command all surveillance footage and records related to the death of a detainee in ICE custody?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:58:00)
I certainly hope they do, Senator. And I will follow up on that with alacrity.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:58:05)
Thank you so much. And if they do not, will you commit, presuming you have the legal authority to do so, to making that DHS policy?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:58:14)
Yes. Absent some compelling reason why I shouldn’t of which I am unaware as I sit here today and testify, most certainly.
Sen. Ossoff: (01:58:22)
Grateful for your testimony, for your candor, and for your service to the country.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:58:26)
Thank you, Senator.
Chairman Peters: (01:58:29)
Thank you, Senator Ossoff. Senator Padilla, you are recognized for your questions.
Sen. Padilla: (01:58:33)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. And to thank you Mr. Secretary for participating today and for your service. Couple of quick questions, a quick yes/no questions just to sort of calibrate the conversation. Because as I entered, the hearing made a stream that was coming from judiciary committee. I heard a whole lot of rhetoric. So first, is it a lawful for someone to seek asylum in the United States? Yes or no?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:59:00)
Sen. Padilla: (01:59:02)
Are there processes and procedures in place to consider requests for asylum? Yes or no?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:59:08)
Sen. Padilla: (01:59:09)
And as these requests for asylum are processed by the appropriate agencies, determination is some combination of approvals and denials? Yes or no?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:59:20)
Sen. Padilla: (01:59:20)
Okay. Just, I think important for those watching at home to kind of put the conversation and issues raised in this hearing in the proper context, I did want to follow up on something that Senator Hawley raise a question about Safe Third Countries. It’s my understanding that during the Trump administration, they never sent anyone back to El Salvador or to Honduras. And indeed, less than a thousand migrants were sent to Guatemala. So it doesn’t seem like these so-called Safe Third Country Agreements were really used by the Trump administration. Agree or disagree? Or maybe you can verify the numbers.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:00:05)
Senator, I’d have to get back to you with respect to the data which I don’t have before me this morning.
Sen. Padilla: (02:00:12)
Okay. That would be helpful. I appreciate that. Now, I did want to raise a question about collaboration between the department and non-governmental organizations. I’m hearing from a lot of advocates and service providers in California that more communication and coordination would be helpful between DGS and… Excuse me, DHS and the NGOs that are efficiently and safely providing service for immigrant families.
Sen. Padilla: (02:00:45)
Oftentimes, migrants are sent to areas of the country where shelters are already at capacity, though. And that apartment is not sufficiently drawing upon resources in other regions of the country where providers have more capacity to continue to meet their needs. Can you discuss any oof DHS efforts to improve communication and coordination with NGO service providers and how the department takes a NGO feedback into consideration when making operational decisions?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:01:15)
Thank you, Senator. So we work very closely with non-governmental organizations to address the asylees, the individuals who make asylum claims under United States law to ensure that they are sheltered appropriately and that the COVID-19 health and safety protocols are administered in partnership with us and pursuant to an architecture of reimbursement that we work with the state and local officials on.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:01:50)
Early on, we heard the very same concerns that you referenced this morning, that there was challenges with respect to the lines of communication. And so we address those. And we think we’ve made tremendous strides with the non-governmental organizations in improving the lines of communication. That’s not to say that everything works perfectly. The process is difficult, but when we learn of a shortcoming, we address it, not only with respect to that particular relationship, but we take a look at whether there’s any systemic improvements that we can Institute.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:02:27)
And so we’re very proactive as well as reactive in improving and strengthening the communication lines with the non-governmental organizations. They’re critical partners in this.
Sen. Padilla: (02:02:41)
Yeah. And I look forward to following up with you on this as well. Look, as a proud representative of California, I know there’s a number of local governments in addition to NGOs, particular in Southern California, that have stepped up to try to be partners during this very unique time period. And some of the goodwill and well- intentioned gestures have meant facilities are near or at maybe slightly beyond capacity given traditional occupancy limits, COVID protocols, et cetera. Other parts of the country NGOs with capacity and experience, separate apart from the funding question, are willing to be more helpful than I think DHS has taken them up on. So want to follow up with your team to share that information.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:03:29)
I look forward to that because we do work, of course, in close partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services. We look at the landscape of non-governmental organizations across the country in the border area, I should say, and seek to place the families, the children, in the shelters where the capacity is greatest. It’s a multifaceted analysis.
Sen. Padilla: (02:03:57)
I know there’s multiple factors that are considered. I do want to touch on what I think is an encouraging trend. I was glad to hear this week that the department has decreased the amount of time that children’s spent in border patrol custody. As you recall, in March, there were more than 5,000 children who were in border patrol custody, specifically, each spending an average 115 hours in border patrol facilities. But as of this last Tuesday, I understand there’s 455 children in border patrol custody, each spending an average of 28 hours in those facilities.
Sen. Padilla: (02:04:38)
That’s a dramatic decrease in both the number of children and custody and the time spent in border patrol custody. Decreasing the time that migrants are in border patrol custody should be a top priority, especially for migrant children who are better cared for by far by HHS. Can you just discuss some of the steps that that apartment and, and border patrol specifically have taken to decrease the time unaccompanied children are spending in border patrol custody and how we anticipate the time further going down, going forward?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:05:13)
Thank you very much, Senator. I must really emphasize the extraordinary work of the United States Border Patrol, the men and women of the border patrol. Many of them are fathers and mothers who understand the plight of the children in whose care… The children were in the care of these heroic law enforcement officers. First, we deployed FEMA to assist HHS in increasing the number of shelters and intake facilities that it had so that we had places to move the children. Then we started delivering operational efficiencies, reducing the time that it took to actually place the child in those facilities.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:06:12)
And now we’re very focused on reducing the time, not at the expense of quality, reducing the time between the HHS facility and the placement of the child with a relative or legal guardian here in the U.S. So it’s shelter, capacity, care capacity, process efficiency, are three critical components of what we’ve delivered to achieve the dramatic results that you’ve noted.
Sen. Padilla: (02:06:44)
Chairman Peters: (02:06:45)
Thank you, Senator Padilla. The chair now recognizes Senator Sinema for your questions.
Sen. Sinema: (02:06:51)
Well, thank you, Chairman. I appreciate you for holding this hearing today. And I’m glad that secretary Mayorkas has joined us to talk about the crisis at the southwest border. Secretary, I appreciate your commitment to responding to Arizona’s needs during these challenging times as chair of this committee’s Border Management Subcommittee, I’ll continue to work to ensure that Congress and the administration take meaningful steps to secure the border, support our border communities and NGOs, prevent the spread of COVID-19, and treat all migrants and unaccompanied children fairly and humanely.
Sen. Sinema: (02:07:24)
That’s why I recently introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Ac with Senator Cornyn. Our bill doesn’t solve all the challenges at the border, but it does take meaningful steps to respond to the ongoing crisis by creating regional processing centers, improving the asylum process by ensuring that migrants get better legal assistance, and improving communication and coordination with local communities and non-governmental organizations that are impacted by the crisis.
Sen. Sinema: (02:07:51)
Secretary Mayorkas, that effort to improve communication and coordination is where I want to start today. I am pleased that Arizona ICE has responded to my concerns that our office raised regarding the release of single adult migrants at bus stops. And they’ve recently changed their policy. Bringing these individuals directly to non-governmental organization makes migrants and our community safe. And I appreciate that, that under your leadership, ICE and DHS are working collaboratively with Arizona communities and NGOs to solve challenges.
Sen. Sinema: (02:08:23)
However, Arizona communities still worry about unannounced drop-offs of family units. Which DHS rules and policies prevent your agency from providing notice before any migrants are going to be released in the community? And how are you working to further solve this challenge?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:08:41)
Thank you very much, Senator. You did indeed bring your concerns to our attention. And those concerns were valid and we took a swift action. It is our commitment to ensure appropriate coordination and communication between immigration and customs enforcement of the United States Border Patrol and the local community officials. And if in fact there is a breakdown, then that is our responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again. This is something that we’re very, very focused on. Local officials do deserve to know of our actions that could impact their resources and their facilities. And we’re very focused on continuing to strengthen that relationship, those relationships and that dynamic.
Sen. Sinema: (02:09:36)
Thank you. I know we’ll continue working together to resolve this challenge. My office has also received confirmation from local NGO and ICE officials that some COVID positive migrants have been released into communities without sufficient resources or direct access to quarantine shelters. What are the department’s policies for releasing COVID positive migrants? And what steps can DHS take to improve these policies to keep both migrants and our community safe.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:10:08)
Senator, under the tremendous leadership of our chief medical officer, we’ve built an architecture of working with local officials and non-governmental organizations to transport family members to local facilities, to the non-governmental organizations that have the capacity to test, isolate, and quarantine, as necessary, of family members.
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:10:36)
This is an architecture that we have built in Texas, in Arizona, in California. And it’s a really a remarkable achievement. We are continuing to look at that architecture to see how it can be strengthened and improved. We are committed to ensuring that individuals are indeed tested, isolated, and quarantine in the service of the public health imperative.
Sen. Sinema: (02:11:03)
Thank you. DHS recently finalized a contract with a private company to house migrants in Arizona and Texas hotels in order to improve processing capacity. What oversight is DHS conducting to ensure that these facilities meet the standards we expect of them, including sufficient access to legal and to casework assistance?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:11:25)
Senator, there are two really ways to proceed in this regard. One is through licensed facilities. And the other, to ensure appropriate capacity and efficient and effective processes on licensed facilities. But we are committed to adhering to the very same standards across that landscape. So the fact that a facility is unlicensed does not mean that it should not have the very same standards for the care and custody and shelter of the individuals in its residents. And we are committed to and dedicated to adhering to those very same standards.
Sen. Sinema: (02:12:12)
Thank you. As you know, Secretary, I’m extremely interested in the administration’s efforts to improve the asylum process, including providing better access to legal counsel and legal orientation as a way to make the system more efficient. That’s a key reason why I recently introduced Bipartisan Legislation with Senator Cornyn to make the asylum process more efficient and also making it fairer. What steps is the administration taking right now to improve legal orientation and legal access, including allowing migrants to easily make and receive phone calls at all DHS facilities?
Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:12:47)
Senator, I’m very well aware of and appreciative of your efforts to improve the asylum process. That is an effort that we, too, are very dedicated to, and that process is underway. We have learned of challenges to access to counsel by reason of inadequate telephone services. And we have installed additional telephone services in facilities. Access to counsel is a core principle in the administration of justice. And we’re dedicated to achieving that across our enterprise. And if there are any obstacles of which you are aware in individual’s ability to access counsel, please do continue to bring them to our attention so that we can solve them immediately.
Sen. Sinema: (02:13:36)
Thank you, Secretary. We will definitely follow up. Mr. Chairman, I have a couple other questions, but I see that my time is expiring. So I’ll submit them for the record to the secretary. And I want to thank you again for holding this hearing and thank the secretary for joining us today.
Chairman Peters: (02:13:50)
Well, thank you, Senator Sinema. Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you again for being here. You’ve been generous with your time, but we have a couple of just brief closing comments. And our ranking member Portman wanted to make a comment. Then I’ll look close this out from the hearing.
Ranking Member Portman: (02:14:05)
Thank you, Chairman. And to the Secretary, thank you for coming today. And it was very important. We have a lot of follow-up questions, as you saw. I did want to say to Senator Sinema, we appreciate her legislation on regional processing centers. It’s consistent with what I talked about in my opening statement. I hope we can talk more about that, maybe next time, about policy going forward, which would be more rapid processing of asylum claims.
Ranking Member Portman: (02:14:25)
I wanted to correct the record on the Central American Minors program. You had pointed to that as one reason there’s been an increase because were stopped in the Trump administration. I told you I supported the program. I said there were about 5,000 people that had gone through it in three years. And that wasn’t very compared to the problem we have. I was wrong. 3,500, went through it in three years, which is roughly the number of unaccompanied minors coming every week now. So we look forward to talking about some of those policy questions going forward so that we can resolve the issues that I know that you agree need to be addressed. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Peters: (02:15:03)
Thank you, ranking member Portman member. Well, Mr. Secretary, we’ve had a very thorough discussion today about the challenges that we face at the southern border and what the department needs to address those challenges. Although I don’t agree with the characterization of the situation by my Republican colleagues, I think it is very clear to me that we need to work in a bipartisan fashion to solutions on the multitude of challenges that we face.
Chairman Peters: (02:15:29)
And while there are issues where we will disagree here in this committee, I think there’s some areas of agreement. DHS certainly needs adequate resources. CBP officers and agents need support. And unaccompanied children need to be protected from violence and the transnational criminal organizations that seek them harm.
Chairman Peters: (02:15:49)
So I look forward to working with my colleagues and the department on some common sense solutions. Secretary Mayorkas, thank you again for your attendance today and for your commitment to work with this committee and to be available for our questions. We appreciate that.
Chairman Peters: (02:16:05)
The hearing record will remain open for 15 days, until May 28th and at 5:00 PM. For submissions of statements and questions for the record. And with that, the hearing is now adjourned.