Sens. Mike Lee, Mitt Romney impatient with Biden administration’s lack of action at southern border

Migrants who had been waiting for temporary transit papers but failed to get them after waiting, some up to two months, leave Tapachula, Mexico, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, as they make their way to the U.S. border. The migrants said they did not have the resources to pay for more food and lodging as they wait.
Migrants who had been waiting for temporary transit papers but failed to get them after waiting, some up to two months, leave Tapachula, Mexico, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, as they make their way to the U.S. border. The migrants said they did not have the resources to pay for more food and lodging as they wait. | Edgar Clemente, Associated Press
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Utah’s senators spoke harshly of the Biden administration’s border policies Tuesday as border patrol encounters approached 270,000 per month and 2.5 million per year for the first time ever.

“We’ve got a border crisis unfolding in our country. It is severe,” Sen. Mike Lee told the Deseret News in an interview Tuesday.

Lee and Sen. Mitt Romney have both been outspoken critics of how President Joe Biden has handled the enforcement of border security provisions during his term, which has seen the number of illegal border crossings blow past previous records with no end in sight.

On Tuesday, Romney questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas about why his agency had not proposed actionable solutions to the growing wave of illegal immigration. And over the weekend, Lee visited the southern border to brief with U.S. border officials and to patrol the U.S.-Mexico line.

What did Sen. Lee say about the southern border?

“We’ve got people coming from not only all over Latin America, but all over the world, pouring across our borders every day,” Lee said while at the border in a video posted on Monday. “We don’t know who a lot of these people are. In fact, we know that some of them don’t mean us well. The American people deserve to have a secure border. And every day that elapses when we have an insecure border is a day that threatens our homeland security.”

During a day spent with the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, Lee said he learned the extent to which Biden administration policies have left the border porous to migrants from countries across the globe. Roughly 7,500 Chinese nationals, and dozens from Albania, Syria and Afghanistan, entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2023, Lee said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

This isn’t the first time the senator has visited the border. In March 2021, Lee walked the Rio Grande at night with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and said he heard the jeers of drug smugglers and cartel members on the other side of the river. However, the worsening situation at the border over the last few years is clearly evident, Lee said.

“Even just since my last visit there, it’s gotten so much worse. The American people can see the billions upon billions that we’re spending on Ukraine’s border security without fixing our own,” the senator said Tuesday in an interview with the Deseret News.

How many illegal crossings were there in 2023?

The previous 12 months have seen records of all kinds being broken on the United States’ southwestern border.

Border encounters — a measure of how many times Border Patrol agents process and apprehend, or expel, migrants crossing into the U.S. — reached an all-time high in fiscal year 2023.

Over 2,475,000 border encounters were recorded in the American southwest in fiscal year 2023, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This exceeds FY 2022’s record 2,379,000 encounters by 4% and represents a 40% increase from FY 2021 and a 100% increase from FY2019, according to the House Committee on Homeland Security.

September saw the highest number of border encounters in a single month in recorded U.S. history with the tally reaching nearly 270,000 encounters. To place that in context, monthly border encounters averaged about 38,000 a month in FY 2020, 145,000 in FY 2021, 198,000 in FY 2022 and 206,000 in FY 2023, according to data gathered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

These staggering statistics do not including the number of “got aways” who successfully evaded Border Patrol agents. During Tuesday’s hearing, Mayorkas revealed the number of migrants who entered the country without encountering border patrol was more than 600,000 in FY 2023, according to the New York Post.

In videos posted on Monday and Tuesday from his visit to the border, Lee decried what he saw as Biden’s inaction on problems of existential importance to the country and said the president could fix the crisis at the border “today” if he enabled Border Patrol agents to enforce better policies.

“I’m grateful for the support and hard work of the U.S. Border Patrol. It does an amazing job with limited resources — sometimes with one or even both hands tied behind their back,” Lee said. “Existing law allows them to do what they need to do to secure the border. Tragically, the Biden administration wont allow them to utilize those authorities. That’s got to change. And that’s got to change now.”

Lee said there are several changes Biden could make to improve border security and he recommended that Biden reinstitute the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy “immediately.”

The controversial program launched by former President Donald Trump in 2019, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, allowed border agents to expel a greater number of asylum-seeking migrants and force them to await court dates in Mexico. The Biden administration ended the policy in 2022.

What did Sen. Romney tell Mayorkas?

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Romney lambasted the government official who oversees enforcement of border security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

Referencing a graph presented by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Mike Johnson, Romney pointed out the spike in illegal border crossings which he said coincided with the beginning of the Biden administration and Mayorkas’ tenure in office.

“If that were my record, I would resign in shame or I would have fashioned a piece of legislation designed to solve that problem and worked like crazy to get it passed,” Romney told the Homeland Security secretary. “I don’t think you’ve done either one of those things.”