WASHINGTON—During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) pressed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the Biden Administration’s lack of action concerning the crisis at the United States’ southern border. Romney also asked Secretary Mayorkas about the potential risks of the Administration’s spending plans amid historic levels of inflation.
A transcript of Senator Romney’s exchange with Secretary Mayorkas can be found below, and video can be found here.
Senator Romney: Obviously one of the key responsibilities of Homeland Security is to secure our border—securing our homeland, if you will, and the numbers and the human stories that are coming from our border are both alarming and obviously threatening to our domestic tranquility and safety and economic vitality. I don’t know exactly why the Administration doesn’t want to acknowledge the crisis that we’re seeing at the border, and I guess the real question in my mind is why we politicize everything. I mean, you know I’m one of those that’s critical of people who politicize vaccination, but I’m also incredulous that there seems to be politicization about whether we should complete the border barrier that’s already been contracted to be completed. There are gaps in it, the steel is there, the contracts have been let, contractors, as Senator Lankford has pointed out, are standing by guarding the steel. Why in the world don’t we complete the barrier that’s already been contracted for? Surely it would help our security of the border.
Secretary Mayorkas: Senator, I know that we will not agree on this issue, but the decision with respect to the border wall was not a political decision but a substantive one. The 15 billion dollars that was dedicated to construction of the border wall was ill-advised, and we can use the government’s funds and taxpayers funds, more wisely—through investment in innovation, through investment in technology—that is the greatest force multiplier.
Romney: Mr. Secretary, the great majority of that money has already been spent, the overwhelming majority, and now there’s some gaps in what’s already been spent…President Obama’s Administration expanded the border barrier. I mean, I’m all in favor of technology but as long as we’ve paid for it and have contracts to complete the wall, I simply can’t understand any logical reason not to complete it…And with regards to the comment that we’re going to invest in root causes, I don’t understand what you’re inferring to there. Are you suggesting that somehow, we should be able to invest to make sure that all of Latin America gets rid of their dictators, gets rid of their corruption, ends violence, and if we do that, maybe there’ll be less people trying to get to the border? That’s unrealistic, that’s of course absurd. We can’t do those things even domestically, let alone around the world. People want to come to this country, they always will – you’re responsible for securing our borders. I just don’t get why you don’t address this in a way, well frankly like President Obama did—complete the barrier, use technology, have ICE carry out the responsibility of removing people that are here illegally. I’ve noticed that the House Democrats recently approved plans to slash the budget for Enforcement and Removal Operations. They cut it by hundreds of millions of dollars. Is that a mistake and do you believe that those funds should be restored?
Mayorkas: Senator, you mentioned three different subjects. I will move very quickly through the three of them.
Romney: I didn’t ask for a response to some of them, those were my comments. The response I wanted was, do you believe in restoring and not cutting the funding for Enforcement and Removal Operations contrary to what the House has passed?
Mayorkas: I believe in smart and effective immigration enforcement, and that is what we are executing. And I do not believe in spending taxpayer money unwisely, and not consistent with enforcement priorities that are designed to achieve the greatest public safety objective.
Romney: Well of course I agree with motherhood and apple pie as well, but the House has voted to reduce spending on enforcement. Is that something with which you concur, or do you believe that would be a mistake and you want to make sure that we don’t reduce spending on enforcement?
Mayorkas: What I am focused on is the wise expenditure of funds, and I have a responsibility…
Romney: And given that focus on the wise expenditure of funds, do you believe we should cut the funding for enforcement, or do you believe we should maintain it or increase it?
Mayrokas: In certain respects I think we should increase it, in other respects I think we should reduce it, because some of it is not spent wisely to achieve the most important outcomes, and I’ve seen that. Senator if I may, because I know you disagree with me by your physical reaction but if I may, I know that, from being in the trenches and actually doing the work.
DEBT AND DEFICITS
Romney: The federal government is spending as much on interest right now as we spend on the combined budgets of Commerce, Education, Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, the Justice Department, and the State Department. Let that sink in. That overspending is contributing to the highest level of inflation we’ve seen in some 12 years. Would you say that trillion dollar deficits like these, before the pandemic as well as after the pandemic, that they pose a threat to our national security?
Mayorkas: Senator, that’s a question that I’m ill-equipped to answer. That is not my area of expertise.
Romney: Well you have an opinion I’m sure, I mean, you’re head of the Department of Homeland Security, and the question I’m asking is, are we reaching a point where the level of our debt and deficits and the interest we’re paying represent a threat to our homeland security?
Mayorkas: Not to my knowledge, Senator.
Romney: So at no level, trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, that doesn’t pose a threat to our national security?
Mayorkas: I believe that this Administration’s efforts to rebuild this country contribute to the security of this country, it’s national security, it’s homeland security, it’s economic security, and it’s possibilities and promise.
Romney: That’s an answer to a question I didn’t ask. Thank you Mr. Chairman.