WASHINGTON - U.S. Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday that the country’s southwestern border with Mexico is “secure” and “closed,” even as thousands of Central American migrants are pouring into the United States at a rate that is on pace to be the highest in 20 years.
The U.S. currently is holding 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children, but Mayorkas said the U.S. was obligated under its laws to care for them, rather than expel them to their home countries as was the policy under former President Donald Trump.
Mayorkas said it was “just false” to say that the children were “dealt with humanely” under the Trump administration.
“The prior administration dismantled the asylum process,” he told the “Fox News Sunday” show. “We are encouraging families not to send their children” to the border. But if the children cross into the United States, he said they will be cared for over several days, sent to relatives already living in the United States or placed with vetted people willing to take care of them.
“This is about vulnerable children,” he said. “We can (process them) in a safe and orderly manner. We will succeed.”
Single adults and families arriving at the border are being sent back to Mexico under current U.S. immigration policies.
On Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden said he planned to visit the border with Mexico "at some point." His administration, he said, was working to ensure that potential migrants applied for asylum in their home countries.
“They can stay in place and make their case from their home countries," he said.
When Biden took office two months ago, he stopped construction of the border wall Trump championed and embraced what Biden said would be more humane immigration policies. While he has urged people in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to stay home, his policy shifts, critics say, have led to thousands of people making the dangerous trek north through Mexico to try to reach the U.S.
The bigger flow of migrants started last April, nine months before Trump left office, but has grown markedly under Biden.
According to government records, about 74,000 people were stopped at the border in December, Trump’s last full month in office, but the total grew to 100,000 in February, Biden’s first full month as president. In the same two months, the number of unaccompanied children reaching the U.S. grew from about 5,000 to more than 9,400,
The spike in migration has proved to be an early political headache for Biden. An administration critic, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a possible 2024 Republican presidential candidate, told Fox News, “It was the Biden administration that ended the ‘remain in Mexico’ policy” of the Trump administration,
“The border is wide open,” Cotton said, rebuffing Mayorkas’s contention that it is secure. He said Biden has “dismantled the very effective policies the Trump administration had in place.”
Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led a group of Republican lawmakers to the border to condemn Biden’s policies.
“This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration,” McCarthy said. “There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”