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'Undoubtedly Difficult': Mayorkas Says DHS Is Working To Manage Influx At Border

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.
Drew Angerer
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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is testifying to a House committee on the recent surge in migrants — particularly unaccompanied minors — to the U.S.-Mexico border, as Republicans have deemed the uptick in asylum-seekers a "crisis" spurred by the Biden administration.

"The situation at the southwest border is difficult. We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so," Mayorkas said in a Tuesday statement ahead of the panel testimony.

"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."

Watch Wednesday's hearing live.

The United States is on track to see the highest number of migrants on the country's southern border than at any time in the last 20 years, Mayorkas said.

During his campaign, President Biden stressed the importance of taking a humane approach to immigration following the Trump administration's harsh crackdown on illegal immigration.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security began phasing in a new process for asylum-seekers, no longer requiring that they remain in Mexico, as had been law under Donald Trump's administration. But Mayorkas still stressed to potential migrants not to travel to the border while the administration works to get the system up to date.

Republicans have pounced on the surge in migrants, claiming it as evidence of Biden's weakness on immigration and arguing that his approach endangers American lives as well as those of asylum-seekers.

"It's more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak," Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at a news conference on Monday after a tour of the El Paso Processing Center. "This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration."

McCarthy said Border Patrol agents told him that sheltering facilities are quickly reaching capacity and that the number of migrants is "growing exponentially every day."

A DHS document obtained by NPR shows that as of Sunday, 4,276 unaccompanied migrant children were in U.S. government custody. Those minors, who arrived at the U.S. border without a parent or legal guardian, are spending an average of 117 hours in detention facilities, far longer than the 72 hours allowed by law.

The situation is complicated further by the coronavirus pandemic, requiring additional protocols when processing migrants.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.