WASHINGTON, D.C., November 9, 2023 – U.S. Senator Katie Britt (R-Ala.) yesterday pressed U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas for answers about the nation’s ongoing crisis at the southern border during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations to review the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 emergency supplemental funding request for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Senator Britt began her questioning by asking Secretary Mayorkas if he considered the current situation at the southern border to be a “crisis” or an “emergency.” Despite the fact that the Appropriations Committee was conducting a hearing to consider a measure that the Biden Administration itself classified as “emergency supplemental funding,” Secretary Mayorkas declined to use either of those words.
This follows the Secretary’s ongoing pattern of refusing to call the situation a crisis, despite the fact that the Administration last month shattered a new record of eight million illegal border crossings since President Biden took office.
Senator Britt proceeded to ask Secretary Mayorkas about the Biden Administration’s policies and priorities that have failed to secure the border, and pressed him on the necessity of a border wall. The Secretary noted that he did not believe a border wall should be a part of our nation’s homeland security plans, contradicting his own announced determination last month waiving 26 federal laws to allow for previously appropriated border wall construction on the Texas southern border.
In her questioning, Senator Britt also drew attention to the lack of interior enforcement under the Biden Administration’s border and migration policies. During President Biden’s term, the non-detained docket has grown from 3.3 million migrants in the nation’s interior to 6.3 million – a 75% increase. This includes more than one million migrants on the non-detained docket with final orders of removal from the country. Despite this large and growing backlog, the Biden Administration’s supplemental request did not include funding for any new ICE officers to help effectuate these removals.
A transcript of Senator Britt’s line of questioning can be found below:
BRITT: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you, both secretaries for being here today. I want to start by acknowledging the sentiments of many of my colleagues about the urgent need for border security, for policy changes, and to changes in interior enforcement.
I just want to take a minute to ask a couple of questions. I’m going to start [with] Secretary Mayorkas. When you testified on March 29th before the Homeland Security Subcommittee regarding President’s FY 24 budget proposal for your department, there were 6,610 encounters at the southern border. On Monday, that number was 8,500, which is eight and a half times more than the 1,000 daily encounters that your former boss, Secretary Jeh Johnson, said would constitute a crisis. I know on that day, on March 29th, you did not say that we had a crisis.
My question for you is today, do you believe that we have a crisis before us?
MAYORKAS: Senator, let me make this point. It is very, very important because I’ve been asked to describe it as a disaster. Would I describe it as a crisis? I do not diminish the significance and the complexity…I do not diminish…
BRITT: Well, I only have five minutes and I only have three left. So, is it crisis, yes or not?
MAYORKAS: I could not…
BRITT: … I’m going to move on. Secretary Becerra, do you think that we have a child care crisis, [an] affordable child care crisis in this country?
BECERRA: Senator, I don’t think there’s any doubt.
BRITT: OK. That’s what I thought. OK, so, but this is an emergency Secretary Mayorkas. It is an emergency though.
MAYORKAS: It is urgent that we receive the funding for our personnel and our tools to enhance the security of our border.
BRITT: I think we just need to use the words. It’s true. It’s an emergency. That’s what this administration said, they put it in an emergency supplemental request. So, let’s treat it as such.
Moving on. You did have a record year though in other ways. You put more people on the non-detained docket than [the] previous two administrations combined [during] the entirety of their terms in office. This administration had near-low levels of removal and detention beds filled. And this administration set another record for encounters on the southwest border. And as my colleague from New Hampshire mentioned, there was a 500 percent increase in the northern border in a five-county area that impacts the area that she represents. When we talk about this, we don’t need to manage the border, as it says in one of your requests here, we actually need to secure it.
So, in doing that, this administration has kind of had different positions, and I want to clarify it. Do you believe that a border wall is part of the answer? Yes, or no?
BRITT: No. OK. So, I have trouble reconciling that with the [determination] that you signed and issued on October 5th, where you said construction of physical barriers on the border of the United States would, in fact, prevent unlawful entries.
MAYORKAS: Senator, so if I may explain, Congress mandated that we employ a wall…
BRITT: But you didn’t actually have to issue a [waiver]. … And one more thing…
MAYORKAS: That isn’t correct.
BRITT: … this administration and your department, the Department of Homeland Security, issued a contract for half a million dollars in September of 2021, for the purchase and installation of a wall around this President’s beach house. So, y’all do know walls work, you do know they’re part of the solution. You do know they’re part of creating security, but for whatever reason, you feel like the American people are beneath that. And I think that it is incredibly frustrating.
I only have a minute left. So, I want to move to interior enforcement. When you’re looking at the non-detained docket, I’m concerned about the growth of the number of people in the interior who are waiting years, if not decades, to have their cases heard before an immigration judge. So particularly if you look at this, the ICE officers do they have, or do we have the number of officers needed, do they have the support that they are needed in order to manage this caseload of 6.3 million individuals and rising?
So now with 40 seconds left, do you, when we see the 1 million people that have had due process and need to be removed, do you believe that the ICE officers have what they need to be able to remove those?
MAYORKAS: Senator, as our supplemental reflects, we need more Enforcement and Removal Operations Officers, we need more support staff for them despite the constraint of inadequate resources. We have removed aggravated felons at a higher rate than the prior administration. We have interdicted more fentanyl…
BRITT: I only have 17 seconds left, but you’ve only requested 45 more ICE officers (in both the FY23 and 24 budget requests). And the truth is when you look at the 6,000 officers that we have and the 6.5 million people that are in the interior, and the 1 million people that need to be removed, you’re asking each of these agents to essentially remove about 167 people, if they’re going to remove all 1 million and in a year. We’ve got to be serious about what we’re requesting. You all requested this two years ago. And either you aren’t serious about it, or my colleagues across the aisle didn’t want to fund it, because those 45 officers that you requested did not make it into the (FY23) omnibus bill.
I am hopeful that we not only have the 45 that were requested, but we have much more. They have an important job to do. And we need to make sure they have the resources and the officers to do it.