Mayorkas defends border policy as GOP points to 'crisis'

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — FBI director pressed on agency reportedly withholding Kaseya decryption key White House faces increased cries from allies on Haitian migrants MORE pushed back at Republicans on Wednesday who insisted he refer to rising numbers at the Southern border as a "crisis." 

Republicans repeatedly asked Mayorkas how he would describe the situation at the border after DHS on Tuesday said the U.S. is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”

“If we want to speak of language, then let me speak of language,” Mayorkas said in an exchange with Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse passes bill to compensate 'Havana syndrome' victims McCaul pressures State to formalize ties to outside evacuation groups Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (R-Texas) during an appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee.

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“I will share with you how I define a crisis. Crisis is when a nation is willing to rip a 9-year-old child out of the hands of his or her parent and separate that family to deter future migration. That to me is a humanitarian crisis,” he said, referencing former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

Mayorkas said the Biden administration would not back away from its pledge to keep a "fair and humane" immigration system.

Mayorkas’s comments came after McCaul said he appreciated the secretary’s honesty in disclosing the historic nature of the numbers.

“I agree with you, it’s going to be the most we've seen in 20 years. You may call that only a challenge, but I call that a crisis,” he said.

There are more than 4,200 children in Border Patrol custody, a significant jump over a record-breaking record 3,500 children from the week prior.

Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions at the southern border increased 28 percent in February to more than 100,000 people, according to the Border Patrol.

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Republicans have blamed Biden for the surge, saying his sweeping away of restrictive Trump-era policies sent a signal that migrants should head to the United States.

The White House and Democrats have pointed to what they say was a broken system inherited by Biden at the border, while saying the new administration needs time. 

Several administrations led by presidents in both parties have struggled to deal with regular surges at the border, as partisan differences in Congress have prevented action on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.