Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at a press conference during a trip to Eagle Pass, Texas.
The main reason I came to Eagle Pass today was to meet with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection workforce – the Agents of the United States Border Patrol, the Officers in CBP’s Office of Field Operations, Agents from Air and Marine Operations, and the personnel who support them.
These public servants are heroes. On ordinary days, they work the frontlines enforcing our laws at great personal risk so that others – the American public, all of us – can be safe and secure. They are incredibly talented, dedicated, courageous, and selfless.
These Agents and Officers encountered an historic number of migrants in December, including large numbers of migrants who arrived at the border at one time, putting tremendous stress on our broken immigration system, our under-resourced facilities, the communities – I met with Eagle Pass elected leaders earlier today – and, most importantly, our Agents and Officers themselves.
Yet, these Agents and Officers managed through it all as they always do. They processed the migrants into immigration enforcement proceedings in an orderly way, they returned and removed those who have no claim for relief or legal basis to remain, they rescued migrants in distress, and they overcame unfortunate obstacles along the way. They are to be recognized and commended, and that is why I am here today.
We now need Congress to do their part and act. Our immigration system is outdated and broken and has been in need of reform for literally decades. On this, everyone agrees. It is the very reason why President Biden submitted to Congress, on his very first day in office, proposed legislation. Now, three years later, I am privileged to be working with both Republicans and Democratic Senators who are working tirelessly on much-needed reform and long-overdue fixes to our system.
We need Congress to provide the supplemental funding that President Biden requested months ago. We need more Border Patrol Agents and more case processors so that the Agents can be out in the field doing the heroic work that is their fundamental mission. We need more Officers so that migration surges do not force mitigation measures of last resort, like bridge closures. We need more asylum officers and immigration judges so that we can resolve asylum claims quickly – granting relief when it is warranted, removing migrants when it is not, and reducing the 3-million-case immigration court backlog that has been growing for years and years. We need more technology to combat the smuggling of fentanyl through our ports of entry, and more facilities to process and detain migrants during immigration enforcement proceedings. We need more transportation funding to facilitate an increase in removal flights, and more resources for detention beds and Alternatives to Detention, and to bolster our Family Expedited Removal Management, or FERM, process.
We have taken bold, necessary actions during the time that Congress has failed to act. We have established Safe Mobility Offices to assist migrants in Colombia, Guatemala, and Ecuador; implemented programs to enable different nationalities to access relief in the United States without making the perilous journey in the hands of smugglers; begun processing an historic number of refugees from our hemisphere; removed and returned historic numbers of migrants who entered illegally and failed to qualify for relief; empowered asylum officers with new authority to streamline the asylum claims process; implemented regulatory changes that incentivize migrants to follow safe, orderly, and lawful pathways; and so much more. We have listened to our workforce and equipped them with what they need to do their jobs, including new technology, logistical support, processing coordinators, innovative tools, 11 new processing facilities, and hundreds of additional personnel to support their operations, including the first increase in the number of Border Patrol Agents in 11 years.
The high number of migrants we have encountered at our southern border is a challenge that is not unique to the United States. Countries throughout our hemisphere – in fact, throughout the world – are experiencing an unprecedented number of displaced people fleeing poverty, authoritarian regimes, homes destroyed by extreme weather events, corruption, and violence. The regional challenges require regional solutions, and that is why Secretary of State Blinken and I, with the White House Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall, were in Mexico two weeks ago, why I spoke with Panama’s Minister of Security last week, and why, among other engagements in the region, I will be traveling to Central America in the coming weeks, as I have throughout the past three years.
We are grateful for Mexico’s renewed enforcement commitments to address the movement of people north. We are working with other countries throughout Latin America, including Panama, to address the movement of people throughout the hemisphere. We continue to develop lawful pathways, deliver consequences for those who do not use them, address root causes, and attack the ruthless smuggling organizations that prey on the vulnerable.
Some have accused DHS of not enforcing our nation’s laws. This could not be further from the truth. Having begun my public service career as a federal prosecutor for 12 years, ultimately serving as the United States Attorney, there is nothing I take more seriously than our responsibility to uphold the law, and the men and women of DHS are working around the clock to do so.
The individuals who have been returned to their countries of origin certainly know this. After the ending of Title 42 in May, through the end of the fiscal year, DHS removed or returned more noncitizens without a basis to remain in the United States than in any other five-month period in the last ten years. In fact, the majority of all Southwest Border migrant encounters throughout this Administration have been removed, returned, or expelled – the majority of them. We are doing everything we can, within a broken system, to incentivize noncitizens to use lawful pathways, to impose consequences on those who do not, and to reduce irregular migration.
We will continue to do everything we can, and we will continue to enforce the law, but we need Congress to make the legislative changes and provide the funding that our frontline officers so desperately need. What is remarkable is that, through it all, the brave men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and their partners in the Department of Homeland Security, have and will continue to put on their uniforms, don their badges, and work at great risk to themselves in the service of their mission – to keep us and our country safe and secure.
I am proud to be here to recognize, commend, and thank them and their families for their service and their sacrifice. But they need and deserve more than just recognition. They need and deserve the support and resources only Congress can provide.
I would be pleased to answer your questions.