Alejandro Mayorkas defends border preparations as migrant surge begins

Alejandro Mayorkas defends border preparations as migrant surge begins

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insisted Sunday that the Biden administration is ready to handle a renewed migrant surge, brushing aside mounting evidence that things are already going very wrong at the southern border.

The Border Patrol says the numbers rushing the U.S.-Mexico boundary are already soaring, with nearly 55,000 illegal immigrants nabbed over the last week alone. Agents know of at least 18,000 more who snuck by them.

Both numbers are up dramatically compared to even just a month ago.

Meanwhile, the Homeland Security inspector general issued a new report late last week saying the department is already overstretched and morale has tanked. The audit called the situation “unsustainable.”

The warnings come with just days to go before the government loses its illegal-immigrant expulsion power under Title 42, a pandemic-era authority that has helped keep the border crisis from turning into a catastrophe. The power expires on Thursday, along with most of the rest of the government’s pandemic emergency powers.

Mr. Mayorkas, speaking on the CBS Sunday program “Face the Nation,” said he and his team are ready for what comes next.

“We’ve been preparing for this for quite some time,” he said.

He pointed to 1,500 active-duty troops that are being deployed to the border to add more manpower to the efforts and to welcome centers being set up in Latin America to try to reshape the flow of people headed north.

But those plans were panned by key voices such as Sen. Kirsten Sinema, an Arizona independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who said Mr. Mayorkas isn’t ready.

“The Biden administration had two years to prepare for this and did not do so,” she told CBS.

She pointed out the welcome centers aren’t yet actually running — Mr. Mayorkas admitted the first welcome center, in Colombia, is still weeks away — and she said the 1,500 troops is a pittance for a nearly 2,000-mile-long boundary with Mexico.

She also complained that the Biden administration is keeping even border states in the dark about its operations.

“I’m asking for that information, and I’m not getting it,” the Arizona senator said.

‘Either the administration has that information and they’re choosing not to share it, which is a problem, since we’re the ones who are going to deal with the crisis. Or they don’t have it — and that’s even more concerning.”

Mr. Mayorkas toured the border in Texas late last week and pronounced the situation “a very serious one, a very challenging one and a very difficult one.”

He avoided using the word “crisis,” as he always has during his tenure under President Biden.

“The border is not open, it has not been open, and it will not be open subsequent to May 11,” he said.

That statement was challenged by the thousands of migrants — and particularly Venezuelans — who were pouring over the border.

The Rio Grande Valley sector of the Border Patrol, where Mr. Mayorkas was Friday, reported catching 2,500 migrants caught just that morning — most of them Venezuelan.

Just a couple of months ago, Venezuela had been a success story, after Mr. Mayorkas and Mr. Biden announced a plan to use “parole” powers to give them a path into the country — albeit still without lawful presence.

Under the plan, those who applied beforehand, even though they don’t have a legal visa to come, were to be admitted if they had a sponsor and a potential claim for asylum.

The numbers sneaking across the border plummeted, while the number coming through the pre-approval parole program rose quickly.

But in recent weeks, Venezuelans have started sneaking over again.

Mr. Mayorkas said he was at a loss to explain the upheaval, but said his plan was working nonetheless.

He also said smugglers are spreading false narratives about the border, trying to entice people to pay to come.

The Venezuelans are worrying because Mr. Mayorkas has built his plans for the end of Title 42 around a similar approach of trying to deter those sneaking across the border, while enticing them to apply for pre-approval.

The goal is not so much to limit illegal immigration but to siphon it through regular border crossings, and at the same time sap income from the smuggling cartels who charge a fee to nearly every illegal immigrant who tries to sneak in.

Those across the ideological spectrum have reasons to be unhappy.

Those on the right complain about a border breakdown, saying the administration is encouraging the flow of people through its lax policies.

From the left, meanwhile, activists complain about the get-tough measures the administration has imposed, including the looming deployment of active-duty soldiers and Marines and an upcoming regulation that will tighten the rules for applying for asylum.

Under that policy, which Mr. Mayorkas said will be finalized before Thursday, those who cross other countries to reach the U.S. and make an asylum claim will have a higher burden of proof.

According to the inspector general’s audit, released late last week, Homeland Security has been hiding the extent of its problems at the southern border.

Agents told investigators that when dignitaries came to visit and get a look at the situation, the Border Patrol would beef up its staff and ship migrants out — then bring the migrants back once the visit was over.

One agent told investigators that every time a visit took place, they would “make this place look fit and proper.” But after the visit, they would “go right back to over filled pods and lack of staff and equipment to handle the situation.”

The reality was that agents were overwhelmed, overworked and frustrated with the chaos, the inspector general said.

That was true for agents and officers at both Customs and Border Protection, and at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main agency handling interior enforcement and deportations.

The audit said ICE has been stretched so thin dealing with the border chaos that it hasn’t been able to arrest and deport as many criminals from inside the U.S.

ICE’s deportation force made 92,108 arrests of migrants with criminal convictions in fiscal 2019, during a border surge under President Trump. By contrast, ICE’s deportation force logged just 18,173 criminal arrests in the first seven months of fiscal 2022.

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