WASHINGTON—In response to tough questioning from U.S. Senator Mitt Romney at today’s hearing, Secretary Mayorkas repeatedly dismissed and refused to acknowledge problems with the Administration’s handling of the crisis at the southern border.
“What I find astonishing…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 there are human beings behind these numbers. And is not saying, ‘Hey we’ve got to make some changes immediately.’ I find that extraordinary and extremely damning,” said Romney.
Romney also expressed his deep concerns about cartels taking advantage of overwhelmed border agents, and pushed Mayorkas on whether he would support mandatory E-Verify, which would ensure legal status of employees and help address one of the drivers of illegal immigration.
Highlights of Senator Romney’s exchange with Secretary Mayorkas can be found below, and a video of their exchange can be found here.
Senator Romney: 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. I mean, do you recognize this as an alarming crisis?
Secretary Mayorkas: Senator, I look at immigration as a challenge that has been persistent for many years.
Romney: Of course, but we were running along here, and now, we’re seeing apprehensions at the border that have skyrocketed. And just as alarming, perhaps even more so, is the chart that came from Senator Portman, which is unaccompanied children who are being let into the country at explosive numbers. I mean, is this not a massive failure that would suggest that the Administration needs to take immediate action to remedy what we’re seeing here?
Mayorkas: Senator, we have taken immediate action with respect to the unaccompanied children.
Romney: Is the number coming down?
Mayorkas: We are addressing that challenge with increasing efficiency every single day.
Romney: 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. But, the number coming into our country and being released into our country is at a 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 as you can imagine this overwhelms our border control agents. I mean, 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?
Mayorkas: 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, so we have an obligation.
Romney: I understand that. 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.
Mayorkas: Senator, we are addressing the numbers consistent with the law under the trafficking…
Romney: Well, propose a new law. We have a crisis both for children – I mean you talk about the humanitarian concerns of kids that come here, and I understand, we’ve addressed that. They’re children! Think of them coming here all the way from Honduras. Think of the trial of going across the entire country of Mexico to get here, and then not being able to come into the country. I mean, yeah let’s bring this up, the fact that these kids are coming here making that kind of journey, and they’re not going to be allowed to stay in this country.
Mayorkas: 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, a fear of persecution.
Romney: So this is not a problem then. Your view is that this is the way it’s going to be.
Mayorkas: 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.
Romney: Yeah. 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 there are human beings behind these numbers. And is not saying, “Hey we’ve got to make some changes immediately.” I find that extraordinary and extremely damning.
Romney: You indicated the 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? Florida is using that effectively. Should we have an E-Verify system for our country that is mandatory?
Mayorkas: Senator I believe in E-Verify, I think it is an effective tool. Its effectiveness grew under my administration as the Director of USCIS.
Romney: Should it be mandatory? So that our businesses are required to check the legal status of people they are hiring?
Mayorkas: Whether it should or should not be mandatory is actually something that I have not yet determined.
Romney: I’ll look forward to that determination. Thank you.