Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas faced tough questions Tuesday when he appeared before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the discussion was wide-ranging, Republicans were mainly focused on the crisis at the U.S. southern border.
Mayorkas acknowledged that the number of migrants illegally crossing the border was extremely low during the Trump administration and that since Biden took office, the number has been historically high.
Still, he maintains Trump policies broke the system, and that those put in place under the Biden administration, combined with new legislation, will fix it.
"We must invest in addressing root causes, creating legal pathways, and ensuring swift adjudication of asylum claims. The immigration system, though, is fundamentally broken ... a fact that everyone agrees upon. Congress must pass legislation to fix it," Mayorkas said in his opening remarks.
Republican lawmakers; however, say it's the lack of enforcement that has migrants flooding into the U.S.
"Between January 1st and September 30th of this year, just the time period in which President Biden has been in office, there have been about 1.7 million illegal crossers that have been encountered at our southern border. This doesn't suggest to me operational control," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
"Senator, we are enforcing the laws that Congress passed. Individuals who make a claim for asylum, who are encountered upon illegal crossing at the border, are placed into immigration enforcement proceedings, are able to make their claim for asylum before an immigration judge, and if their claim is successful, under the law they're able to stay here. If their claim is unsuccessful they are removed from the United States," Mayorkas responded.
He called migrants who fail to report an "enforcement priority" for his department, claiming they would not be able to simply disappear into the United States. Mayorkas stressed that point frequently after several media reports cited leaked immigration documents that some lawmakers believe contradict DHS enforcement policy.
According to Sen. James Lankford's office, one of those documents reads: "Don't worry if you are past the 60-day deadline to report from the time you entered the United States. Come in so you can help ensure the best outcome for your case."
Another stresses that they will not be taken into custody during their appointment unless they have committed a serious crime.
During Tuesday's hearing, Mayorkas did say deportation of the most dangerous migrants should be prioritized.
"We have limited resources, if we do not establish priorities we will not establish our mission most effectively of securing the American public," Mayorkas told lawmakers.
Democrats largely stayed away from border security during the hearing, and while Mayorkas was in the line of fire, it was clear that Republicans hold the White House responsible for the border crisis.