Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday defended the Biden administration’s decision to not expel children arriving in the U.S. amid a migrant surge along the southern border, arguing "that’s not who we are."
In an interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Mayorkas said "the border is closed" and that the U.S. was expelling families and adults but will not turn back "young, vulnerable children." He said the Biden administration was working to develop new policies to address the problem with Mexico and Central American countries that are the source of the asylum seekers.
He blamed former President Donald Trump for having "dismantled the orderly, humane and efficient way" of dealing with the migrant children.
"We are rebuilding those orderly and safe processes as quickly as possible," he said. "But in the meantime, we will not expel into the Mexican desert, for example, three orphan children whom I saw over the last two weeks. We just won’t do that. That’s not who we are."
The rapid increase in migrants seeking to enter the U.S., which the Biden administration refuses to call a "crisis," has become an urgent challenge for the president just two months into his term. In February, U.S. border agents apprehended more than 100,000 migrants, in what was a 28 percent increase from the previous month.
In addition to criticism that their policies are enabling the surge, administration officials are also facing questions for not providing media access to border facilities so the public can get a firsthand look at the situation. Mayorkas said "we’re working on that" but made clear it wasn’t a top priority. He said the administration was dealing with a pandemic and "not focused on ride-alongs right now."
"Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd asked Mayorkas if there was a "gag order" obstructing media access, which Mayorkas denied.
"We are focused on our operations, in removing children from those crowded Border Patrol stations to the Health and Human Services facilities that can best shelter them," he said. "And we are also working on providing access so the American public can in a safe way, without jeopardizing our operations, see what is going on. We’re working on that."
Republicans on Sunday accused Biden of encouraging the spike in migrants reaching the U.S.-Mexico border after abandoning the Trump administration’s approach.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of Congress’s leading immigration hawks, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the border was "wide open."
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on CBS’ "Face the Nation" that "it is a situation spiraling out of control."
Portman, who is retiring after his current Senate term, said Biden made border policy changes without implementing other measures to discourage people from coming to the U.S. or to make adequate preparations for shelters and holding facilities.
"Encouraging these kids to come is not a humane thing," Portman said. "It’s certainly overwhelming our system."
But John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., said he had an opportunity to speak with Mayorkas about a week ago and was "impressed so far with this administration."
Appearing on CNN’s "Inside Politics Sunday," Giles said, "We are very nervous about the surge that we see in refugees that are crossing the border."
"So far we’re getting good answers to the questions that we’re asking," Giles said. "And so far it looks like FEMA and other resources are being brought to help communities like mine that are close to the border and are being asked to provide a lot of assistance. But we’re going to need funding in order to provide the assistance that these folks need and that the federal government can’t provide."
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