EL PASO, Texas (Border Report)– The man responsible for safeguarding the nation’s security on Thursday did not publicly address the record surge in unauthorized migration, but emphatically defended the change in philosophy taking place at America’s borders.
“The policies have changed so dramatically between the Trump administration and the Biden administration. We have ended policies of cruelty that defined the prior administration,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told KTVO while on a work trip to El Paso.
Migrant advocates from late 2018 through the end of 2020 accused Trump of dealing with a migrant surge and highly publicized caravans from Central America through family separation, by forcing asylum-seekers to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities and refusing to hold but a handful of credible fear interviews per day.
But on Thursday, Mayorkas deflected migrant advocates’ criticism over the Biden administration’s continuation of Trump policies like the summary expulsion of some economic migrants and asylum-seekers under a public health rule called Title 42.
“Everyone has to understand that Title 42 is public health authority, not an immigration policy. We remain battling the pandemic and it’s a public health imperative for the benefit of migrants, the communities they enter and our workforce to continue to apply Title 42 and that is the decision of the CDC. It’s not our decision,” Mayorkas told KTSM’s Spanish news partner in El Paso.
Mayorkas is on a three-day trip to the border that started Wednesday in Yuma, Arizona, and continues tomorrow in Laredo, Texas, just days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection released December numbers showing more than 178,000 migrants came across the Southern border during a 31-day period. That puts the number of unauthorized migrants who were apprehended or surrendered to U.S. authorities at the Mexican border at over 2 million for the calendar year 2021.
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who is accompanying Mayorkas on the border tour, acknowledged border agents are understaffed and underequipped.
“The Border Patrol has done a tremendous job. We’ve seen increases not just in El Paso but across the southwest border,” Ortiz told KTVO. “We know we have some processing challenges and some capacity challenges and then you add COVID into the mix. It has certainly put additional capacity issues on the Border Patrol.”
He said challenges include “not enough technology, and we certainly don’t have enough agents out on the front lines.”
Also, the guile of transnational criminal organizations behind at least some of the increased migration is forcing the Border Patrol to adjust on the fly.
“El Paso has seen some increases, but we have other locations that have higher increases to include Del Rio, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona,” Ortiz said. “So we’re having to transport some of those migrants to El Paso so we can process them and turn them over to nongovernmental organizations here.”
He clarified that not all migrants are released, but some are repatriated “as safely as we possibly can.”
Mayorkas’ border tour hasn’t gone without some glitches. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called for Mayorkas’ resignation when he learned he was in Yuma, and a small group of Border Patrol agents’ relatives and supporters held a protest at the Clint, Texas, station the secretary visited Thursday morning.
DHS on Thursday released photos from Mayorkas’ visit to the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, station. That’s an area where the Mexican cartels have been routing much of the migrant smuggling just west of El Paso.
The secretary also announced an additional 20,000 H-2B visas for skilled immigrants would be available in the next six months to provide foreign nationals an additional legal venue to try to come to the United States.