Mayorkas Defends Biden’s Record as Border Crossings Fall after Title 42 Ends

Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten.
Migrants waiting in Matamoros, Mexico, in hopes of getting interviews for asylum in the United States on Saturday.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday credited the Biden administration’s policies for what he said was a significant drop in attempts by migrants to enter the United States illegally, immediately after the expiration of a pandemic-era policy meant to deter those crossings.

Mayorkas made that defense, and also called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul, while appearing on several talk shows. Republican officials on Sunday said the border needed to be secured before immigration laws could be changed.

Early last week, border crossings hit their highest levels ever, topping 10,000 unlawful crossings per day, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Those numbers dropped off to about 6,300 on Friday and 4,200 on Saturday – the days after the Trump-era policy referred to as Title 42 ended at midnight Thursday.

“We are in day three,” Mayorkas said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” noting those figures were a 50 percent drop from earlier in the week. “But, you know, we’ve been planning for this transition for months and months and we’ve been executing on our plan and we will continue to do so.”

Under a new rule, most migrants are presumed ineligible for asylum in the United States if they passed through another country to get to the U.S. border and didn’t first seek refuge in that country.

That rule won’t apply to migrants who secure an asylum interview in the United States through an app known as CBP One. However, despite a touted overhaul to the app, asylum-seeking migrants remain frustrated by technical glitches and difficulties logging in to make appointments.

Migrants deemed to be in the United States unlawfully may be deported through a process known as “expedited removal” and will be prohibited from seeking reentry for five years. DHS has said migrants caught having reentered the United States after being deported face criminal prosecution.

Republicans, however, looked at the same figures Mayorkas cited as proof that the Biden administration was unprepared for a widely expected increase in the number of unlawful crossings at that border.

“What the secretary failed to say is that this week has seen more crossings than any time, any week in our history,” Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Yes, there was some anticipation” that the Title 42 policy would expire, Green said, “so people started coming across at higher numbers – in fact, record-breaking numbers – at the first part of the week.”

But Green distanced himself from the family separation policy that former president Donald Trump used while in office, and which he said on the campaign trail he would consider reviving if he is reelected president.

“We’re not separating families,” Green said. “I don’t think we should separate families.” He noted that it was not included in the border security legislation that House Republicans recently passed.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also downplayed the drop in encounters with migrants at the southern border after the Title 42 policy expired, saying he believes caravans of migrants are still headed to the border and “they still want to get in.”

“The last 21/2 years speak for themselves,” McCaul told ABC’s “This Week.” “We’ve had 5 million people enter this country illegally . . . It’s unsustainable.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued over the Biden administration restrictions, which it says are inhumane and dangerous for asylum seekers. Mayorkas insisted the administration has created more lawful pathways for entry into the United States, but acknowledged that asylum seekers now have a “higher threshold of proof they have to meet.”

“This is not an asylum ban,” Mayorkas said on “This Week.” “We have a humanitarian obligation, as well as a matter of security, to cut the ruthless smugglers out.”

Mayorkas also said he disagrees with a Florida judge’s ruling Thursday that barred the quick release of certain migrants from overcrowded holding migrant facilities, but said DHS is complying as litigation continues.

“We think it’s a very harmful ruling when, in fact, our Border Patrol stations become overcrowded. It is a matter of the safety and security of people, including our own personnel, not just the vulnerable migrants,” he said.

The mayor of the border city of Laredo told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that while officials are seeing historic challenges at the border, preparations made in anticipation of the expiration of the Title 42 policy have “held up.”

“We have not been overwhelmed at this point,” said Mayor Victor Treviño, who added that the city received about 700 migrants Saturday but remains on “high alert” because of the overflow from the El Paso and Brownsville areas.

Treviño credited the new Biden border restrictions, including a rule that migrants from countries beyond Mexico must first seek asylum in a country through which they pass. “The amount of migrants we were expecting initially – the big flow is not here yet,” said Treviño, whose mayoral position is nonpartisan.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), an outspoken progressive, told “Fox News Sunday” that the Biden administration was doing all it could at the border but was hamstrung by a shortage of resources that congressional Republicans refused to provide.

“The problem is often with Congress,” he said. “I mean, we have not provided the administration with the resources for the immigration judges or processing. We have not provided the resources for Border Patrol. We have not provided the resources for securing the border.”

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.), whose district includes a large swath of the El Paso border region, said Biden needed to not only secure the border, but also provide many more immigration judges to adjudicate the staggering backlog of asylum cases.

Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Gonzales said asylum seekers who apply via the Biden administration’s CBP One app get a court date of 2031. He said those asylum seekers “should get their case heard in days, not years.”