Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasWe must do more to protect American Jews Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans A review of President Biden's first year on border policy MORE on Wednesday defended the administration’s retention of a Trump-era policy that allows the swift removal of migrants due to COVID-19 as well as a narrowing in those sought for deportations by law enforcement officials.
The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to scrap Title 42, a policy crafted under the Trump administration that allows officials to immediately turn away adult migrants and asylum-seekers to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Mayorkas on Wednesday reiterated that administration's position that the policy is necessary as a public health measure even as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues new guidelines and states and cities around the country dramatically scale back their pandemic restrictions.
“We are watching the science, led by the CDC, and we will no longer rely upon title 42 When there is no longer a public health imperative basis,” Mayorkas told a House Appropriations subcommittee.
"We will not restrict travel one day more than the public health imperative requires. That is the assurance I can give."
The Biden administration has relied on the policy to expel hundreds of thousands of people in recent months. In April alone, DHS used Title 42 to remove more than 110,000 people — more than 62 percent of all people apprehended at the southern border.
Mayorkas was pressured in part by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) who said the restrictions are especially devastating for border communities that rely on business from Mexico.
“It’s been over a year,” he said, noting that the measure no longer feels like a temporary stopgap to limit spread of the virus.
Mayorkas said DHS was weighing whether to vaccinate its detainees for COVID-19, something he said was “under review.”
Even as the administration is under scrutiny for its quick expulsions, Mayorkas also faced numerous questions from Republicans on the committee about the administration's new enforcement policy. The directive encourages Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to focus on those with a serious criminal record, requiring officers to seek approval from a higher-up before deviating from the new parameters.
Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannHouse Democrats include immigration priorities as they forward DHS funding bill The Memo: Biden feels the heat from all sides on immigration Biden official defends Trump-era immigration policy MORE (R-Tenn.) likened it to “a near stop of all immigration violation arrests.”
According to The Washington Post, ICE agents now reportedly carry out an average of one arrest every two months, and the agency as a whole deported fewer than 3,000 migrants last month, less than any other time in its recorded history.
“The fact of the matter is that we cannot, with the resources that we have, address the fact that we have over 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States,” Mayorkas responded.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement are going to be dedicated to the greatest impact on behalf of the American people. We will not be enforcing laws indiscriminately, misusing resources that don't deliver quality worthy investment of resources,” he added later.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardBass raises nearly million since launching LA mayor campaign Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-Calif.) defended the new priorities, saying it “is the individuals with the highest level of criminality that are now being targeted, which is really the intent in terms of being sure that the American people are safe.”
But Mayorkas echoed comments from ICE acting Director Tae Johnson to the same committee on the 287(g) agreements that partners the agency with local law enforcement.
He said the administration wants to “end the pernicious practices of the past” but said the agreements “have a vital role to play.”
Mayorkas also hinted the administration might be open to more community-based monitoring of immigrants facing deportation, rather than continuing to rely on expensive, prison-based detention facilities.
“One of the things that I have observed is the detention of individuals that do not pose a threat to public safety, or do not pose a risk of flight such that we are not confident in their appearance in future immigration proceedings. I am concerned about the overuse of detention, and where alternatives to detention would suffice...we will indeed be looking at that,” he said.
His comments come shortly after he directed ICE to close two detention facilities with a history of abuse.