The Department of Homeland Security’s top official defended his agency’s efforts along the southern border of the United States, despite record numbers of crossings by illegal immigrants.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS secretary, gave a keynote speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday afternoon. The speech focused on the convergence of National Security and Homeland Security.
After the speech, Mayorkas sat down with Vivian Salama of the Wall Street Journal to discuss several hot topics in what appeared to be a rapid-fire round.
When asked about his department’s inability – over several administrations – to get a handle on the migration crisis at the southern border, Mayorkas said the work they do goes beyond immigration.
He said Customs and Border Protection facilitates lawful trade and travel, while fighting forced labor. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, combats intellectual property theft, child online sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and illegal narcotics, he added.
“The breadth of these agencies is far greater than the immigration portfolio,” Mayorkas said. “The immigration system, our laws, have not been reformed for more than 40 years. The problem from administration to administration, regardless of party, is the fact that we are fundamentally working within a broken immigration system, and that is the foundational challenge, with respect to the border.”
But the problem goes much deeper, he explained.
Mayorkas said today’s border crisis is unique because it is not just exclusive to the southern border of the U.S., but also every border in the western hemisphere.
He called the migration “unprecedented in scope,” and used Venezuela as an example.
Mayorkas said the population of Venezuela is 25 to 27 million and more than 7 million have left the country. Colombia got an influx of 2.4 million Venezuelans, he said, and Chile is hosting more than a million.
“We’re seeing a movement of people throughout the hemisphere, and quite frankly, around the world,” he said.
Mayorkas was also questioned about the presumptive incoming House Speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, and his push to investigate the secretary and possibly impeach him for failing to address the border crisis.
“Well, we are devoting tremendous resources to address the border in a way that achieves its security and upholds its values,” Mayorkas said. “We are modernizing our systems at the border to expedite processing, bringing greater efficiency to it. We are intensely focused on this mission set, just as we are intensely focused on the mission sets that we confront as a department from top to bottom.”
A growing number of Republicans have called for the impeachment of Mayorkas over his handling of the crisis, which has hammered the border since the beginning of 2021. There were more than 1.7 million migrant encounters in fiscal year 2021 and more than 2.3 million in fiscal year 2022. Fiscal year 2023 is not shaping up to grant much relief to overwhelmed border communities, with more than 230,000 migrant encounters in October — the highest number for October in years.