Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas struggled to quell a political uproar over border security in the latest of a series of Capitol Hill appearances.
The secretary appeared Wednesday before two Senate panels, following three House hearings last week in which he became a political punching bag for Republicans. Lawmakers from both parties have argued the Department of Homeland Security isn’t prepared for an impending increase in migrant arrivals the agency expects when pandemic-related border restrictions end.
“I remain concerned about the department’s ability to get additional, much-needed resources to the border,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), one of several Senate Democrats who’ve raised concerns about ending the public health authority called Title 42.
Bipartisan concern over the planned termination derailed a vote last month on a Covid-19 aid package and continues to complicate the Senate’s effort to advance both Covid and Ukraine aid legislation. Title 42 has allowed border officials to immediately expel asylum-seekers and other migrants since 2020. The Biden administration wants to lift the policy later this month, though court challenges may delay the timeline.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who co-sponsored a bill to keep Title 42 in place, argued DHS lacks capacity to handle an increase in migrant arrivals. The agency has modeled scenarios of up to 18,000 migrants arriving a day after the policy ends, up from about 7,000 a day at the southern border in March.
Mayorkas told lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee that DHS has already surged personnel to the border and would try to move money within the agency to address growing needs at the southern border. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, raised concerns about leaving other parts of DHS’s mission under-funded.
The secretary said he would request supplemental funding from Congress if needed, a prospect that has already raised some skepticism in the House. He also repeatedly pressed lawmakers to pass legislation to improve the immigration system and relieve stress on the border.
Mayorkas pointed to an asylum and border security bill (S. 1358) from Sinema and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and said he looked forward to working with Congress on that and other proposals.
A memo DHS released last week outlining plans to manage increased border arrivals failed to allay lawmakers’ concerns. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) said it lacked details and largely repackaged existing initiatives.
Capitol Hill Fireworks
Mayorkas tried to put to rest at least one border-related complaint earlier Wednesday, telling the appropriations panel the Department of Veterans Affairs would not divert resources to help with southern border management. Republicans seized on the prospect last week and introduced legislation to block the VA from spending money on border assistance.
“We are not making that request to the Veterans Affairs Department,” Mayorkas told Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “The Veterans Affairs Department will not be allocating resources to the border.”
Republicans again called on Mayorkas to resign and had heated exchanges with the secretary, although the hearings’ tenor was more subdued than at his House appearances last week.
Outrage over the border was partially overshadowed during Wednesday’s Senate hearings by DHS’s latest politically volatile move: the creation of a disinformation board that Republicans have compared to an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” Mayorkas tried to ease concerns by stressing that the initiative simply aims to establish standards and best practices for DHS’s longstanding efforts to fight disinformation that threatens homeland security.
“You’ve got no idea what disinformation is,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said. “I don’t think the government’s capable of it.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org