Minister of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas unloaded on immigrant rights activists on Thursday, rejecting their suggestions that he had accepted Trumphard-line politics and saying he’s doing the best he can with a chaotic border, adversarial court decisions and a “dismantled” legal immigration system.
He said that he was working with too little money and that too many illegal immigrants were coming. They are pushed by cartels that spread a “trail of death and tragedy.”
Mr. Mayorkas said he makes the best decisions within those constraints and asked advocates to understand the realities he faces at the border.
“We will face 8 thousand people a day. We have the resources for a small amount of that,” he said. “What are we doing?”
He passed on his challenge Achilan Arulanantham, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, who interviewed Mr. Mayorkas at a Fordham Law Review conference on immigration. But Mr. Mayorkas’ words appeared to be aimed at a broad audience of left-wing critics who accused him and the president of abandoning softer policies.
“It’s about management. It’s about accepting your ideals, accepting your ambitions and trying to realize those ideals and match the moment, the reality we’re facing,” he said. “So what do you suggest? How do you propose that we serve 8,000 people every day when we don’t have the resources to do so?”
Mr. Arulanantham offered him to transfer the money.
“Where do I get the money?” – retorted the secretary. “Do I take that away from our efforts to keep our country cyber-secure? Do I get it from the Transportation Security Administration?”
His complaint about the money came the same day Mr. Biden unveiled his new budget, which includes new money to receive and process illegal immigrants and money to hire 350 more Border Patrol agents.
Analysts doubted the new budget could affect the record number of people who have crossed the border in the past year, saying it was more a matter of policy changes than resources.
A federal judge in Florida echoed that assessment in a ruling Wednesday. Judge T. Kent Wetherell said the Biden administration’s policy “is like putting up a flashing ‘Come in, we’re open’ sign on the southern border.”
Mr. Mayorkas refused to criticize the ruling and said he would comply with it.
“I’m not going to violate the court order,” he said.
Since taking office, Mr. Mayorkas has become a prime target for conservatives who say he has opened the door to lawlessness. But now he’s also taking angry blows from the left, where activists and lawmakers say they see a dangerous rollback to the former president’s policies Donald Trump.
This particularly struck Mr. Mayorkas on Thursday.
He said his new proposal would raise the bar for asylum applications for border crossers, a far cry from the Trump administration’s policy, which effectively barred claims from people who crossed into Mexico to reach the U.S.
“This is not an asylum ban,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “The president Trump issued a transit ban. This is not a ban on asylum.”
The secretary also said he has opened up many new options to protect people already here from deportation and channel the illegal flow across the border into potentially legal ways of entry.
He said the new policy, which grants special entry permits to people from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, admits 740 people a day while reducing illegal crossings by citizens of those countries by 95%.
Mr. Mayorkas also highlighted his move to repeal the Trump administration’s “public prosecution” rule, which punished legal migrants who ended up using welfare programs like Medicaid, his attempt to put the DACA program for undocumented immigrants on a firmer footing “Dreamers” and its success in reuniting hundreds of children with their parents after they were separated under Mr. Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy.
He declined to elaborate on reports that his administration is considering reinstating family detention centers — something he oversaw when he was deputy secretary in the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration but which he phased out in 2021.
The possibility of reintroducing family detention has sparked a cascade of criticism from the political left.
A group of black members of Congress called it “dishonest” and a group of Hispanic members of Congress said it risks “long-term harm to children.”
“No decision has been made,” Mr. Mayorkas said, seeing the reports as a free-flowing discussion of ideas that may not materialize.
But he demanded that critics recognize efforts to protect illegal immigrants from raids on businesses and boasted that few illegal children — including those deported by judges — are actually removed.
Mr. Arulanantham said some of these children are being ordered deported in absentia, meaning they have missed their court dates. He said it was unfair, especially since these children usually did not have lawyers.
Because the immigration courts are a civil system and the result is deportation, not imprisonment, there is no automatic right to legal aid.
Mr. Mayorkas asked Mr. Arulanantham what solution would the activists propose. When Mr. Arulanantham said someone has to go and find the children to get them to come to court, Mr. Mayorkas noted that the immigrant rights community has pushed back against federal immigration officials reaching out to communities at large.
“Who should we involve to try to find this child? Because this initiative is not always met with great support,” said the secretary.