March 30, 2023

Failed policies have ‘not just budgetary costs, but human costs, as well’

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 30, 2023 – U.S. Senator Katie Britt (R-Ala.), as ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, yesterday outlined that President Joe Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal for the Department of Homeland Security clearly reaffirms that the Administration is unserious about securing the border and enforcing immigration law.

Senator Britt delivered opening remarks at the subcommittee hearing and directed two rounds of questioning to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Under Senator Britt’s questioning, Secretary Mayorkas repeatedly refused to acknowledge there is a crisis at the United States’ southern border. He also declined to say whether he believes the border is secure, and he even balked when asked if there was a fentanyl crisis in America.

Video of the first round of Senator Britt’s questioning can be found here.

A transcript is as follows:

Britt: Mr. Secretary, as you know, we have limited time, so I want to get started off with just some very high level questions, yes or no, and then we can get into details as time allows. First, do you believe that there is a crisis at the southwest border?

Mayorkas: Ranking Member Britt, I think there is a very serious challenge at the southern border, as I have articulated.

Britt: Yes, sir. Are you willing to call it a crisis?

Mayorkas: I consider it a very significant challenge, and I am focused on the substance of the issue and the devotion of resources most effectively to address the challenge that we confront as a country.

Britt: Yes, sir. I’m disappointed to not hear you call it a crisis, truly, because I think that’s what we have before us.

When we look at the budget that President Biden put forward, it’s clear that this Administration is not afraid of calling out a crisis when they believe they see one. I will note that we have mentioned in the budget a “climate crisis.” We have mentioned a youth mental crisis. We have a maternal health crisis, a behavioral health crisis. We have a wildfire crisis. We have a crisis of missing and murdered indigenous persons. We have a biodiversity crisis, and we even have a roadway and pedestrian safety crisis. Now, my point here is not to diminish the seriousness of each and every one of those topics that I just listed. It is to show that President Biden and this Administration is not afraid of calling out a crisis if they believe they have one. So I ask you one more time, do you believe we have a crisis at the southwest border?

Mayorkas: Ranking Member Britt, let me assure you that whatever language is used does not impact the fact that we are devoting every ounce of energy to address the challenge.

Britt: I am hopeful that we can get on the same page about this. When you look at what happens, what would trigger this? If you look at Title 42 ending on May 11, your own Department has said we’re going to see almost probably doubled numbers coming across the border at that point in time. Will that elevate it to this Administration being able to call it for what it is, a crisis?

Mayorkas: Ranking Member Britt, what we have done is we have provided projections, not necessarily in terms of what we anticipate seeing, but rather what we need to plan for.

Britt: Well, let’s talk about fentanyl then. When we see how much is coming over the border, I mentioned it, and it has already been mentioned here by the chair. But we lost over 100,000 people to drug overdoses, and 70,000 of those, as you mentioned yourself, are attributed to fentanyl (in 2021). When we look at what’s coming across the border, you said in your testimony right now that that is the single greatest challenge facing our nation. So do you believe we have a fentanyl crisis in this nation?

Mayorkas: I think the word that you used, Ranking Member Britt, is so appropriate, that we have “a scourge” of fentanyl. I think it’s over 70,000 American lives have been lost.

Britt: Is that coming, the majority of that fentanyl, coming over the southwest border?

Mayorkas: It is coming through, I think it is more than 90% is actually being trafficked through the ports of entry at our southern border.

Britt: What are we doing to be able to capture that at the ports of entry?

Mayorkas: So we have surged resources to an unprecedented degree to detect, to interdict the fentanyl from coming and to investigate and prosecute the individuals who are traffickers.

Britt: What are we doing, obviously it has been noted that the Chinese Communist Party are sending those precursors over to Mexico, what are we doing to disrupt and dismantle that transnational criminal organization, to disrupt that network?

Mayorkas: We have brought unprecedented force to that effort, Ranking Member Britt, and I’d like to just cite the new surge operation that we launched last week, operation Blue Lotus. We have brought additional Homeland Security Investigations agents to the ports of entry so that they have an increased and immediate physical presence there, not only for the assistance in the interdiction of the drugs, but critically for the immediate investigation, apprehension, and ultimately prosecution of the traffickers themselves.

Britt: I appreciate that. And I want you to hear me say we’ve got to continue to do more. This is affecting communities all across our country. It is affecting children. It is the leading cause of death between the ages of 18 and 45 in this nation. It is without a doubt a crisis. And I will say once again that I am disappointed that I can’t hear you say those words as well. Additionally, I’d like to talk about the border and its security. The Chair has already alluded to the fact that whether we talk about operational control or whether we talk about maximizing resources, I’m actually not interested in those definitions. What I am interested in is, from your perspective as the Secretary of Homeland Security, do you believe we have a secure border?

Mayorkas: Ranking Member Britt, I think I have addressed this issue. As I mentioned, the words we use do not define the actions that we take. The challenge that we confront defines the actions that we take. And we are using every ounce of energy and resource we have to address the challenges not only at our southern border with respect to irregular migration, not only with respect to trafficking of fentanyl, but across the entire breadth of mission of the Department of Homeland Security.

Britt: Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, it’s not enough. We have a humanitarian crisis, a national security crisis, the face of which becomes very real — you’ve mentioned your trips to the border. I have went to the border three times in the first two months (in office) to see it myself. When you have a border that is 2,000 miles long, there’s no way to capture it all without going and seeing and continuing to look and learn. We must do better. Our border is not secure, and we owe it to the citizens of this nation, we owe it to the people who are being trafficked by these drug cartels, to take back control. Speaking of, the Border Patrol chief this month said, “The cartels control an awful lot of the southern border south of the United States.” Yes or no, do you agree with that statement?

Mayorkas: That is Chief Ortiz whom I selected, the leader of Border Patrol, and I’m very proud of his leadership. I do believe that the cartels control a significant amount of territory south of our border, which is why we have an all-of-government effort to attack those cartels.

Britt: I agree, as well. And when you visit, it becomes very clear. Following up on that, do you believe that the cartels have a growing influence north of our southern border?

Mayorkas: I believe that they have their tentacles in the United States as they have had for many years. They have grown significantly in sophistication and size and capability since I spent my time prosecuting members of that organization when I served as a federal prosecutor.

Britt: And Mr. Secretary, I’m out of time. But I will say I agree. When we look at what drug cartels are doing not only south of our border, but here in our country, we are allowing this crisis to make these cartels rich to the tune of billions of dollars, and the cost of that is real human faces and children in our community all across this country.

Video of Senator Britt’s opening remarks can be found here.

A transcript of Senator Britt’s opening remarks is as follows:

Mr. Secretary, I appreciate you testifying today on the Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for the Department of Homeland Security.  

First, I would like to recognize the hard work of the men and women of the Department. From protecting our borders to safeguarding cyberspace and critical infrastructure, from responding to natural disasters to guarding our coastlines and keeping Americans safe as they travel by planes, buses, and rails, DHS plays a critical role in securing our nation, keeping families safe, and communities strong.

Additionally, I am proud of the work that is performed throughout the great state of Alabama for the Department.

While I have the utmost respect for the tens of thousands of DHS agents, officers, and employees who work tirelessly to protect our nation, I am very concerned about many of the homeland security policies of this Administration, particularly when it comes to the border. 

These policies have not just budgetary costs, but human costs, as well. I’ve seen little pairs of shoes at the border and know those children have a story. I’ve seen a baby shivering wet, after just being carried across the Rio Grande. I’ve looked into CBP officers’ eyes as they tell me about pulling a woman pregnant with twins out of the water, after she drowned.

Sadly, this Administration’s budget proposal doubles down on the failed policies that encourage these kinds of tragedies to happen every day. At a time when we are facing unparalleled threats both at home and abroad, President Biden’s Department of Homeland Security base budget actually calls for a CUT of $650 million – or nearly one percent of your Fiscal Year 2023 funding.

It is one of the only Departments subject to a decreased budget request, and it begs the question: How can President Biden expect anyone to believe he is serious about enforcing our nation’s immigration laws; preventing the exploitation of children; stopping bad actors in cyberspace; keeping Americans safe as they travel; and stemming the flow of fentanyl, which killed a record number of Alabamians and Americans last year?

The candid answer is: he cannot.

Let’s start with securing our border and enforcing the laws. In Fiscal Year 2022, there were around 2.4 million encounters along the southwest border – and this does not include the over half-million gotaways that evaded arrest last year.  

We are on pace to see similar levels in FY 2023 and will likely break that record given the end of Title 42 usage in May.  

In fact, Mr. Secretary, your own department projects that when Title 42 goes away, we could see monthly encounter levels of nearly 400,000 – a 150% increase over the historically high levels we see now.

But President Biden’s budget request for Customs and Border Protection is a decrease of $1.3 billion, and his “plan” has as many gaps in it as the wall this Administration refuses to finish. 

President Biden’s budget seeks to hire just 350 additional Border Patrol agents to address the expected surge of migrants at the same time it is hiring 87,000 new IRS agents. I traveled to the border three times in just the first two months of my time in the Senate, and I can tell you that reducing resources for border security is not the way to go.

And that’s just the border. What about immigration enforcement in the interior of the country?        

Because of this Administration’s policies, there are nearly 600,000 migrants who arrived in the United States within the past two years who are subject to removal but did not receive charging documents and, in some cases, will be waiting more than a decade – more than ten years – just to begin their formal removal process. 

And that does not even include the years they will then have to wait to actually go through removal proceedings. Many of these people here illegally will get lost in the wind — some commit a crime, some maybe worse.

Despite the legal requirement to detain migrants facing removal, yet again President Biden’s budget requests fewer resources for detention beds and alternatives to detention. In fact, this Administration seeks to decrease the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement by nearly half a billion dollars – a clear indication the President is not serious about enforcement.  

I can only imagine what impacts these proposed cuts to Customs and Border Protection and to Immigration and Customs Enforcement have on morale.

Finally, we cannot talk about the border crisis without talking about fentanyl. In 2021, there were over 105,000 Americans, including more than 1,000 Alabamians, that died from drug overdoses, predominantly due to fentanyl. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death of Americans aged 18-45.

I want to commend the brave men and women of CBP, ICE and the U.S. Coast Guard who are on the front lines every day to interdict fentanyl and other illicit drugs.

But the numbers are alarming. For all of Fiscal Year 2022, they seized 14,700 pounds of fentanyl – that is enough fentanyl to kill every single American.  

Less than halfway through Fiscal Year 2023, CBP has nearly matched that number, and we are on pace to double last fiscal year’s totals. 

However, as my colleague from West Virginia pointed out in her recent floor speech, in the President’s budget, fentanyl actually is only mentioned twice. But climate is mentioned 148 times.

In fact, President Biden’s budget request includes only $300 million for fentanyl detection equipment at CBP and $40 million for ICE operations to combat fentanyl trafficking. $40 million is nothing when you compare it to $60 million that this Administration is spending each year to do laundry for those migrants.

And this total pales in comparison to President Biden’s ask of $4 billion for ambiguous, ill-defined initiatives in FEMA’s budget that have no actual bearing on the federal government’s ability to respond swiftly and compassionately when counties in my home state like Dallas, Elmore, Greene, Morgan and Sumter are ravaged by tornadoes and storms.

I cannot emphasize this enough that we must make real and lasting impacts so that we can stop the cartels, stop the manufacturers of pre-cursors, and stop the senseless deaths of Americans due to fentanyl.

There are many other issues for us to discuss in your budget, from different things like the TSA pay raise to inadequate operational funding for the U.S. Coast Guard to proposed cuts in how law enforcement teams get trained at DHS.  

As a mom, I am especially concerned with the Department’s proposed cut to school safety programs.  Horrific tragedies – acts of pure evil – like the one we saw this week in Nashville are heartbreaking reminders that we have a lot of work to do. We must do that work together – in a bipartisan way – to keep our children safe – to protect their lives and their opportunity to live the American Dream. Mr. Secretary, the Department does important work in this area. However, the President’s budget seeks to cut funding for the school safety work done by both the National Threat Assessment Center and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

For the third year in a row, the Biden Administration has submitted a budget that does not make a serious effort to solving the vast problems over which the Department of Homeland Security has direct purview.  

I look forward to having a robust, thoughtful discussion today and beyond on these critical issues and other things as we work to solve the problems that are before us.