WASHINGTON — Republican senators grilled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, criticizing the department’s handling of migrants at the southern border as well as its handling of Afghan evacuees.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the lead Republican on the committee, started off the criticism by telling Mayorkas that he has been running the Department of Homeland Security like a “fan club” to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and, therefore, “shouldn’t be surprised when you have an immigration crisis on your hands.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, followed up by displaying a poster-sized photograph of an immigration facility in Donna, Texas, demanding that Mayorkas tell the committee how many children are in the “Biden cages” in that facility.
“Has any Democratic member of this committee given a damn enough to see the children being locked up by (President) Joe Biden and (Vice President) Kamala Harris because of your failed immigration policies?” Cruz asked.
Mayorkas rejected the use of the word “cages.” Throughout the hearing, he was peppered with questions about specific numbers of different categories of migrants and Afghan evacuees, but generally didn’t answer and struggled to get a word in as senators hammered him with questions.
Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Mayorkas inherited a department “riddled in chaos” from the Trump administration. According to Customs and Border Protection, an estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants attempted to enter the United States this year, the highest number in 61 years.
Durbin said Mayorkas’s responsibilities to oversee the operation to resettle Afghan evacuees while managing migration are daunting.
A focus for Republican lawmakers’ questions was that the Biden administration’s stance on immigration is too lenient.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., accused Biden of having open borders, while Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked Mayorkas whether he thinks DHS’s “non-enforcement policy” is encouraging greater numbers of migrants to come to the U.S.
In response, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey defended Mayorkas and the Biden administration. He said the dramatic increase in crossings at the southern border began in 2019 during the Trump administration and can be attributed to external pressures like the pandemic.
Other GOP lawmakers focused on Afghanistan. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., repeatedly asked Mayorkas what percentage of Afghan evacuees were vetted before they were flown to the United States. Mayorkas, initially answering 100%, dropped his answer down to 99% after Graham reminded him that he was under oath.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asked the secretary how many Afghans were given in-person interviews before coming to the U.S., reminding Mayorkas that the 9/11 Commission has recommended in-person interviews since 2001.
“Are you not tracking it? You run the department, why do you not know?” Hawley said.
Mayorkas responded that DHS conducted in-person interviews for those whose biometric information — including fingerprints and photographs — set off red flags in law enforcement databases.
Multiple Democratic senators said only Congress can truly fix the U.S.’s immigration system. Durbin said he is working to pass immigration reform through the reconciliation bill.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., agreed, saying, “We in Congress must act. Simply grandstanding and finger pointing isn’t going to solve a broken immigration system.”