Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insisted that data indicating a record surge in migrants coming to the southern border since Joe Biden took office is 'misleading' during a Tuesday Senate hearing.
He said the numbers weren't accurate because many of the migrants are repeat offenders making more than one attempt to cross the border each month, including those who are expelled under the Centers for Disease Control and Protection's Title 42.
'The number of apprehensions, the number of encounters does not equal the number of individuals encountered,' he said, adding that those expelled under Title 42 'often return and are expelled again.'
'Individuals are being expelled more than once.'
At one point Mayorkas defended the Biden administration by saying the surge of migrants at the border 'began in April of last year,' under the Trump administration, and called it a 'periodic surge' that reflected a broken immigration system rather than the actions of one White House.
Both Senators Mitt Romney (left) and Josh Hawley (right) grilled Mayorkas during the contentious hearing. Romney accused Mayorkas of talking like a 'politician' while Hawley slammed the Biden administration's record on illegal immigration as an 'unmitigated disaster'
Data released by Customs and Border Protection revealed 188,829 migrants were stopped at the southwest border in June, the sixth monthly increase since the start of 2021 and roughly 8,000 more since May.
These statistics just account for the apprehensions, and doesn't include the migrants who cross undetected - according to reports that is up to 1,500 people every day
Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley was quick to blame the unprecedented numbers on the Biden administration.
'Mr. Secretary, with all due respect, this record is an unmitigated disaster,' Hawley said, claiming states like his were 'awash in drugs' from increased illicit activity at the border.
When grilled about whether the administration's border policies are working, Mayorkas told the Missouri lawmaker that 'we have a plan, we are executing the plan, the plan takes time to execute - and we are doing so.'
Mayorkas said that many people accounted for in Border Patrol's unprecedented numbers have tried to cross the border more than once
He added that the coronavirus pandemic further complicated efforts.
'COVID was at its height a year ago, Mr. Secretary, and with all due respect we saw none of these numbers a year ago,' Hawley snapped. 'This crisis has occurred under your tenure.'
Another point in the contentious hearing saw Utah Senator Mitt Romney attempt to pressure Mayorkas into revealing whether or not he agreed with the House's measure halting construction on the border wall.
'The decision with regard to the border wall was not a political decision but a substantive one - that the $15 billion that was dedicated to construction of the border wall was ill-advised,' Mayorkas defended.
The Homeland Security chief declined to tell senators if he supported budget cuts to border enforcement proposed by House Democrats.
'In certain respects, I think we should increase it, and in other respects, I think we should reduce it,' he said. 'Some of it is not spent wisely to achieve the most important outcomes...I know that by being in the trenches.'
Romney laughed, 'I asked a simple question, do you think the budget should be reduced or not, and you responded like a politician.'
Customs and Border Protection revealed that 188,829 migrants were stopped at the southwest border in June
Immigration officers now have the power to turn migrant families away after just a quick initial screening if they don't meet qualifications for asylum at the southwest border, the Biden administration quietly announced Monday evening.
The policy, expedited removal, is the 'legal authority given to even low-level immigration officers' to deport non-US citizens 'without any of the due-process protections granted to most other people,' according to the American Immigration Council.
First passed under Bill Clinton in 1996 the policy has since been used by Democrats and Republicans to stem the flow of illegal immigration.
Under the newly-reinstated policy, border officials will be able to swiftly deport migrant families who do not meet requirements for asylum (pictured: Over 100 migrants surrendered to Border Patrol agents on July 8 afternoon near Sasabe, AZ)
DHS called expedited removal a 'lawful, more accelerated procedure' to remove migrant family units in a Monday evening statement (pictured: Rio Grande Valley Sector (RGV) Border Patrol agents arrest 53 migrants in three stash houses on July 13)
The Department of Homeland Security said family units who can't be expelled under Title 42 will face screenings for possible expedited removal.
'Expedited removal provides a lawful, more accelerated procedure to remove those family units who do not have a basis under U.S. law to be in the United States,' the DHS statement read. 'The Biden-Harris Administration is working to build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system, and the Department of Homeland Security continues to take several steps to improve lawful processing at ports of entry and reforms to strengthen the asylum system.'
The department did not elaborate on what the screenings will entail.
Title 42 was enacted during the coronavirus pandemic and effectively allows the US to send migrants back across the border even if they wanted to make a legal asylum claim. The Trump administration cited the need to slow the spread of COVID cases in the country.
Requirements for expedited removal were not immediately clear, but the New York Times reports it could possible apply to certain families depending on where they come from, what part of the border they cross or how old the children are.
Human smugglers trafficking migrants across the border have recently targeted specific areas in Texas, Arizona and California because some Mexican border states have refused to accept some families, including those with young children, from countries outside of Central America.
Immigration advocates who have already been pleading with the Biden White House to repeal Title 42 have criticized the administration's move.
The head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project called the administration's decision 'appalling'
The head of a faith-based group helping migrants at the border said the US 'cannot enshrine Trump policy as new normal' - but expedited removal was first enacted under Bill Clinton
The executive director of a legal-focused immigrant advocates' group criticized the move as lacking due process
'This is an appalling announcement. Increasing the use of expedited removal—particularly for families—is the opposite of what the government should be doing,' wrote Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project Omar C. Jadwat wrote on Twitter.
Head of the Hope Border Institute Dylan Corbett warned it would 'enshrine Trump policy as the new normal.'
'This is not due process,' Director of Immigration Arc Camille J. Mackler, a group of legal advocates focused on assisting immigrants in New York wrote.
'The expedited removal 'procedure' involves sitting across a desk from a government agent signing a deportation order. There is no ability to see a judge, consult with a legal advocate (much less an attorney), or otherwise understand the process.'
However, the Biden administration has struggled to stem the flow of illegal immigration to the US, a record surge that has been complicated by the rapidly-spreading COVID Delta variant.
Figures released Friday show 188,829 migrants were encountered at the southern border in June, even more than Customs and Border Patrol saw in May
The 2021 numbers are way higher than previous years' figures of southwest land border encounters provided by Customs and Border Protection
CBP data indicates that almost 1.2 million migrants could have already entered the US since the beginning of the year and more than 2.3 million people could cross into the US by the end of 2021, if the pace of apprehensions and those who avoid detection remain the same.
From January to May, 711,784 migrants were encountered by Customs and Border Protection at the southern border – five times the amount during the same period in 2020 under Trump.
The number of crossers already reported by CBP since the start of 2021 surpasses the population of several large U.S. cities, like Boston and Nashville.
Despite the surging number of migrants coming from outside the US and number of COVID cases rising within, just 14 percent of families encountered by Border Patrol were expelled under Title 42 in June.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is set to testify in front of the Senate this morning, where he could be asked about his department's Monday night move.