Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued this statement today on the situation on the southern border:
There is understandably a great deal of attention currently focused on the southwest border. I want to share the facts, the work that we in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and across the government are doing, and our plan of action. Our personnel remain steadfast in devotion of their talent and efforts in the service of our nation.
The situation at the southwest border is difficult. We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so. That is our job. We are making progress and we are executing on our plan. It will take time and we will not waver in our commitment to succeed.
We will also not waver in our values and our principles as a Nation. Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together. As noted by the President in his Executive Order, “securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them.” We are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That is one of our proudest traditions.
We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children. We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children. We have more work to do.
This is not new. We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well. Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the southwest border has been steadily increasing. Border Patrol Agents are working around the clock to process the flow at the border and I have great respect for their tireless efforts. To understand the situation, it is important to identify who is arriving at our southwest border and how we are following the law to manage different types of border encounters.
The majority of those apprehended at the southwest border are single adults who are currently being expelled under the CDC’s authority to manage the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pursuant to that authority under Title 42 of the United States Code, single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are swiftly expelled to Mexico. Single adults from other countries are expelled by plane to their countries of origin if Mexico does not accept them. There are limited exceptions to our use of the CDC’s expulsion authority. For example, we do not expel individuals with certain acute vulnerabilities.
The expulsion of single adults does not pose an operational challenge for the Border Patrol because of the speed and minimal processing burden of their expulsion.
Families apprehended at the southwest border are also currently being expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority. Families from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries are expelled to Mexico unless Mexico does not have the capacity to receive the families. Families from countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle are expelled by plane to their countries of origin. Exceptions can be made when a family member has an acute vulnerability.
Mexico’s limited capacity has strained our resources, including in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas. When Mexico’s capacity is reached, we process the families and place them in immigration proceedings here in the United States. We have partnered with community-based organizations to test the family members and quarantine them as needed under COVID-19 protocols. In some locations, the processing of individuals who are part of a family unit has strained our border resources. I explain below additional challenges we have encountered and the steps we have taken to solve this problem.
We are encountering many unaccompanied children at our southwest border every day. A child who is under the age of 18 and not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian is considered under the law to be an unaccompanied child. We are encountering six- and seven-year-old children, for example, arriving at our border without an adult. They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them.
An unaccompanied child is brought to a Border Patrol facility and processed for transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Customs and Border Protection is a pass-through and is required to transfer the child to HHS within 72 hours of apprehension. HHS holds the child for testing and quarantine, and shelters the child until the child is placed with a sponsor here in the United States. In more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian. These are children being reunited with their families who will care for them.
The children then go through immigration proceedings where they are able to present a claim for relief under the law.
The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour timeframe for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met. HHS has not had the capacity to intake the number of unaccompanied children we have been encountering. I describe below the actions we have taken and the plans we are executing to handle this difficult situation successfully.