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DHS chief Mayorkas declares: 'The border is not open'

·Chief Investigative Correspondent
·4 min read
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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is doubling down on Vice President Kamala Harris’s message last week to the people of Central America — “Do not come” — while casting it as a “humanitarian” plea.

“Children and families don't need to put their hands, their lives, their life savings in the grasp of smugglers and traffickers,” Mayorkas said during an interview with Yahoo News when asked about Harris’s comments, which drew criticism from progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

“And [Harris's] statement was a statement of humanity: 'Do not come. It is dangerous,'” Mayorkas added. “The border is not open, and we are building safe and legal and orderly avenues to seek humanitarian relief under our laws. And we're addressing the root causes, which is the focus of her efforts.”

Mayorkas’s comments reflect the fine line that Biden administration officials are trying to navigate at the southern border. While distancing themselves from the harsh policies of the Trump administration that were designed to “disincentivize” migrants from crossing the border illegally, current officials have been confronted with a surge in migrants that has reached a 20-year high.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas during an interview with Yahoo News on Monday. (Benjamin Applebaum/DHS)
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas during an interview with Yahoo News on Monday. (Benjamin Applebaum/DHS)

In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 178,622 migrants apprehended attempting to enter the United States, up from 101,120 in February — with many of them coming from more distant countries, such as Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti, as well as Central America’s Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras).

Mayorkas, who is discussing the issue with senior officials in Mexico on Tuesday, continued to reject the idea that the migrant surge constituted a “crisis.”

“I know people used the term 'crisis,' with which I disagreed,” he said. “When they use it, they referred to the fact that children were crowded in Border Patrol facilities where children did not belong. And we've addressed that. And we've executed on the plan that we then had. And we continue to have, No. 1.

“No. 2, the numbers are not encounters of individuals. They include recidivists, and we've seen peaks before. Migration is a dynamic challenge that our country has confronted for many, many years. And the vice president's message is a very important one. And it is one sentence in a suite of sentences that communicates the overall message, which is: ‘Do not come because of the perils of the journey and the fact that we are addressing irregular migration on many fronts.’”

An asylum-seeking migrant mother holds her baby as she waits to be escorted by U.S. Border Patrols after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in Roma, Texas, U.S., May 28, 2021. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)
An asylum-seeking migrant mother and her baby in Roma, Texas, on May 28 wait to be escorted by U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

Mayorkas said the department is continuing to review a Trump administration public health order under Title 42 of the U.S. Code directing that asylum seekers be turned back at the border and await the processing of their asylum claims in Mexico — a measure aimed at keeping out migrants who might be carrying the coronavirus.

“We are looking — and by the way, when I say ‘we,’ that is the Centers for Disease Control, it's a public health authority, not an immigration authority — we in the government are looking at it carefully every day to understand whether the public health foundation remains such that the use of that Title 42 authority is necessary,” he said, emphasizing that the CDC, not his department, is in charge of the review.

Young migrants wait to be tested for Covid-19 at the Department of Homeland Security holding facility on March 30, 2021 in Donna, Texas. (Dario Lopez-Mills - Pool/Getty Images)
Young migrants wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a Department of Homeland Security holding facility in Donna, Texas, in March. (Dario Lopez-Mills — Pool/Getty Images)

He also emphasized that this is strictly a public health review — not an attempt to dissuade asylum seekers from trying to enter the country.

“The legal basis of Title 42 is not a message of deterrence. It is a public health authority, taking a look at the migration pattern, congregant settings, whether or not the individuals are tested or vaccinated,” Mayorkas said. “What is the effect on the American public — the health and safety of the American public? That is the measure of whether Title 42 ... is warranted as a matter of health science.”

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