During an appearance on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas downplayed what has been panned as a lackluster effort by the Biden administration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mayorkas told anchor Martha Raddatz he thought the Biden administration was doing a “good job.”
RADDATZ: What is the plan on the border? You really do have migrants flooding that area. The peak was during the Trump administration, May of 2019, at 144,000 crossings. In May of this year, you hit 240,000 crossings. You may be telling people to stay away, but they keep coming.
MAYORKAS: I think we saw the tragic result of people taking the dangerous journey in San Antonio just recently, when 53 people lost their lives in the most horrific of conditions in the back of a trailer truck.
We continue to warn people not to take the dangerous journey. We are enforcing our laws. And we are working with countries to the south, including our close partner, Mexico, but with Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, to really address the migration that is throughout the Western Hemisphere.
These are remarkably distinct times, and we have a multifaceted approach, not only to work with our partner countries but to bring law enforcement to bear, to attack the smuggling organizations in an unprecedented way. We are doing so very much. Ultimately, however — ultimately, because the border has been a challenge for decades — ultimately, Congress must pass legislation to once and for all fix our broken immigration system.
RADDATZ: But — but, Mr. Secretary, that does not look likely. And you have Congressmen Henry Cuellar saying that only about 30% of the Border Patrol are doing missions at checkpoints and the border because the other 70% are tied up at detention centers. How do you fix that? Again, the message is not getting out.
MAYORKAS: Well, we are continuing to deliver that message, and we will continue to do so. And for the first time since 2011, the president’s fiscal year 2023 budget calls for 300 more Border Patrol agents. And we are hiring case processers. We are addressing this issue vigorously and aggressively, to address the amount of — the number of encounters that we are experiencing at the southern border.
RADDATZ: Just a simple question: Do you think it’s working?
MAYORKAS: I think that we are doing a good job. We need to do better. We are focused on doing more, and we are doing it with our partners to the south. This is a — this is a phenomena that not only the United States is experiencing. Colombia now has more than 2 million Venezuelans within its borders. Costa Rica has indicated that 2% of its population is Nicaraguan, and that might rise to 5%.
The migration that is occurring throughout the hemisphere is reflective of the economic downturn, increase in violence throughout the region, the — the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the results of climate change. We’re really in a — in a regional challenge, and we are addressing it with our regional partners.
RADDATZ: And, Mr. Secretary…
MAYORKAS: And we’ll continue to do so, Martha.
RADDATZ: Mr. Secretary, I want to go back to the tragedy in that tractor-trailer truck with more than 50 migrants dying. Congressman Cuellar, who I mentioned before, told the San Antonio Express News that the vehicle was waved through at a checkpoint because traffic was backed up. Is that correct?
MAYORKAS: Martha, about 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles a day cross through the Laredo checkpoint. The smuggling organizations are extraordinarily sophisticated. They are transnational criminal organizations. When I was prosecuting human smuggling cases back in the ’90s, in Los Angeles, California, we were addressing much more rudimentary operations. They’re very sophisticated…
RADDATZ: But is that what happened? Was it waved through?
Was it just waved through?
MAYORKAS: I think the — the facts are still under investigation. It’s a criminal case. Four individuals have been charged. I won’t speak about the particulars. Those facts will be elicited in a court of law as the prosecution proceeds.
RADDATZ: And — and, just quickly…
MAYORKAS: But, you know, our — our…
RADDATZ: … what good are these checkpoints if a truck like that gets through — full of migrants?
MAYORKAS: Oh, because, Martha, in fiscal year 2022 alone. We’ve stopped more than 400 vehicles and saved and rescued more than 10,000 migrants.
MAYORKAS: Those checkpoints are part of a multilayered approach. We’ve rescued so many migrants. But this is why we continue to communicate that the journey, the dangerous journey should not be taken. We are enforcing our laws and people lose their lives at the hands of exploitative smugglers.