Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared that “we are not going to lose” as “we have a plan, we are executing our plan, it takes time” to confront record migration surges at the southern border.
Last week, Fox News released audio leaked by a Border Patrol source of Mayorkas speaking with agents during a Thursday trip to Texas. “A couple of days ago I was down in Mexico, and I said look, you know, if, if our borders are the first line of defense, we’re going to lose and this is unsustainable,” Mayorkas said. “We can’t continue like this, our people in the field can’t continue and our system isn’t built for it.”
Asked Friday on CNN about those comments, the secretary said that “what I communicated to them, and they very well understood, is the fact that we are not in this alone as the United States government.”
“This is a regional issue. We are working with the countries of origin not only in addressing the root causes, not only in developing safe, orderly, and humane alternative pathways for people to seek relief under United States law,” Mayorkas said. “Not only are we working with those countries and with Mexico in those regards. But we are also working together to interdict irregular migration and to attack the smuggling organizations.”
The number of migrants apprehended trying to cross the border with Mexico is the highest it’s been in 21 years. Customs and Border Protection reported last week that in July there were 212,672 encounters along the southwest border. Twenty-seven percent of those involved individuals who had previously tried to cross and were intercepted within the past 12 months; the re-encounter rate was 14 percent for fiscal years 2014-2019. A total of 845,307 unique individuals have been encountered by CBP year-to-date during fiscal year 2021, compared to 796,400 during the same time period in fiscal year 2019.
“There are a number of reasons. Most importantly, the countries of origin in the Northern Triangle, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, have suffered a tremendous downturn in their economies. There is extraordinary poverty as well as violence,” Mayorkas told CNN. “The impact of climate change, extreme weather events, the reason people are fleeing their homes is quite significant. And that is what we are seeing.”
“I think at the very same time, we have to take into account the fact that America’s economy is surging,” he added. “We are seeing us emerge from the pandemic in a way that other countries south of our border are not. And so, the attraction of the United States and the promise it brings at a time when there is so much suffering in other countries is a clear explanation of why we’re seeing that migration and the numbers that we are seeing.”
Last Thursday, Mayorkas traveled to McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, to receive briefings on frontline operations at Border Patrol processing facilities and speak with Border Patrol leadership in the Rio Grande Valley and surrounding sectors. DHS said that Mayorkas “also met with Border Patrol agents and thanked them for their unwavering dedication to the mission despite the many challenges they face.”
His meetings with border sheriffs, local and federal leaders, and NGOs included meeting Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 for her work to provide food and shelter to migrants. “During the meetings, Secretary Mayorkas thanked them for their partnership, reiterated that the situation at the border is a priority for the department – especially with the added challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic – and laid out how the department is executing its plan to address the border situation,” DHS said.
Mayorkas said in remarks at the Fort Brown Border Patrol Station in Brownsville that “the situation at the border is one of the toughest challenges we face — it is complicated, changing, and involves vulnerable people at a time of a global pandemic.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique and significant challenge. We are seeing an increase in positivity rate among the migrant population. We built an architecture to test and isolate the migrants who make a legal claim for asylum. With respect to unaccompanied children, they are tested and cohorted on intake, before we move them as rapidly as possible to the shelter of Health and Human Services,” he said. ”With respect to families, we continue to operate centers where families are tested and isolated as needed. We are working and have established a system with non-governmental organizations in the communities to test and isolate, family members, as a situation warrants, and… the predominant majority of single adults are expelled rapidly from the Border Patrol.”
“Now, of course, the delta variant makes the situation more difficult,” Mayorkas added. ”Our capacity to test, isolate, and quarantine the vulnerable population, that makes a legal claim for asylum, is stretched. The rate of positivity among the migrants is at or lower than the rates in our local border communities.”