WASHINGTON — Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland safety, informed a House committee on Wednesday that the state of affairs on the Mexican border was “undoubtedly difficult,” a day after warning that he anticipated extra apprehensions alongside the southwestern border this yr than at any time prior to now 20 years.
The House listening to uncovered deep political divisions on immigration with out shedding gentle on any options for the hundreds of migrant kids and youngsters caught in jails alongside the border. Democrats proceed accountable the cruelty of the Trump administration’s insurance policies, even because the Biden administration struggles to search out shelter house for these youths. Republicans accused the Biden administration of incentivizing migration by pledging to unwind Donald J. Trump’s restrictionist insurance policies.
Pressed to name the state of affairs a “crisis,” Mr. Mayorkas informed Representative John Katko of New York, the highest Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee: “I’m not spending any time on the language that we use. I am spending time on operational response on the situation at the border.”
Mr. Mayorkas additionally reaffirmed that home extremism “poses the most lethal and persistent terrorism-related threat to the homeland today.” The Biden administration on Wednesday delivered to Congress an intelligence report warning of the rise of militias and white supremacists.
“The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and on American democracy is a searing example of this threat,” stated Mr. Mayorkas, who added that his company was additionally monitoring the capturing of eight folks, principally Asian, in Atlanta.
The Homeland Security Department introduced final month that it could require that $77 million of its grants to state and native companies be dedicated to combating and stopping home extremism. Mr. Mayorkas additionally informed the committee that his division would enhance its strategy of disseminating warnings about extremism.
He additionally highlighted the work the Federal Emergency Management Agency has completed to roll out vaccines, together with the creation of greater than 900 neighborhood vaccination facilities.
But the listening to was dominated by the administration’s dealing with of the border. Mr. Mayorkas reaffirmed the administration’s use of a pandemic emergency rule to quickly flip single adults and a few households again to Mexico or their dwelling international locations. However, the Biden administration has damaged from the Trump administration in welcoming unaccompanied minors. The variety of these crossings has reached greater than 29,700 since Oct. 1 — about 400 a day to date in March — in contrast with 17,100 throughout the identical interval final fiscal yr.
The kids and youngsters are taken by a border agent first to a detention facility, the place they’re then presupposed to be transferred inside 72 hours to a shelter managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Those shelters have been working till just lately with restricted capability due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving round 4,000 minors caught in jails alongside the border. Some have been left to sleep on mats with foil sheets, based on attorneys who visited a facility in Texas.
Mr. Mayorkas declined to say whether or not he was caught off guard by the surge of migration on the border. “I don’t know that I had any particular expectation one way or the other,” he stated. “I just knew what we needed to do when we confront a situation, and in fact, we are doing it.”
Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the committee’s chairman, started the listening to by criticizing the Trump administration for its restrictionist border insurance policies and crediting the Biden administration for its efforts.
“It cannot be expected to repair in a matter of weeks everything President Trump destroyed over four years,” Mr. Thompson stated. He praised Mr. Mayorkas for working to increase the capability of shelters managed by the Health and Human Services Department.
The Biden administration is planning to maneuver youngsters to a conference heart in downtown Dallas and is opening one other facility at a former oil employees’ camp in Midland, Texas. Customs and Border Protection is working to open a tent facility in Arizona.
“Clearly more will have to be done to respond to the situation while upholding our values,” Mr. Thompson stated. “What we must not do is return to the morally bankrupt policies of the last administration.”
The exchanges between Republicans and Mr. Mayorkas grew heated at instances. Representative Clay Higgins of Louisiana referred to as the listening to “quite nauseating” and accused the secretary of coming with “a prepared narrative.”
Republicans questioned Mr. Mayorkas’s determination to deploy FEMA to the border to assist discover shelter for the younger migrants given the pandemic.
And they requested whether or not the Homeland Security Department was testing migrants launched by border brokers into South Texas for the virus. While the Biden administration continues to make use of a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule to show away most migrants, some households have made it into Texas due to a change in Mexican legislation that prohibits some authorities from detaining small immigrant kids.
“If they’re not tested at the Border Patrol stations as I outlined earlier, there are different capabilities upon which we are relying on the testing of individuals before they are released,” Mr. Mayorkas stated, including that the administration was engaged on testing everybody within the custody of Border Patrol brokers.
The administration has supplied to completely reimburse native governments for the price of testing migrants, however Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a frequent critic of Mr. Biden’s immigration agenda, has not made such a request to FEMA. Instead, he desires the federal authorities to do the testing.
Felipe Romero, a spokesman for the mayor of Brownsville, Texas, stated migrants launched into the neighborhood by border brokers had a coronavirus positivity charge of two.3 p.c, in contrast with 7 p.c among the many city’s residents.
The partisan sparring got here as House Democrats ready to introduce laws that might create a pathway to citizenship or authorized standing for folks introduced into the nation as kids, for others granted non permanent protected standing for humanitarian causes and for farm employees.
Mr. Mayorkas endorsed the trouble. “I think they strike at some of the core needs, the core fixes that the immigration system requires to move us forward in a better way,” he stated.
But the listening to confirmed that immigration adjustments stay a polarizing subject.
“I have rarely seen an issue that is more politicized and used as a political weapon than immigration,” stated Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan. “There is no contradiction between providing significant security for our borders and treating people humanely.”
The Republicans spent a lot time criticizing the Biden administration on its messaging to discourage migration, whilst immigration consultants have stated there’s a lack of proof that any official messaging is efficient when smugglers are facilitating migration north.
Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, additionally requested why the Biden administration halted a Trump-era program that pressured asylum seekers to attend in Mexico in squalid tent camps till they obtained a listening to date for his or her declare.
“Sometimes the tools of deterrence defy values and principles for which we all stand,” Mr. Mayorkas answered, “and one of those tools of deterrence that the Trump administration employed was deplorable.”