Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chief Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday pushed back on an inquiry by a Republican congressman about whether Vice President Kamala Harris would visit the southern border, calling the question “quite unfair and disrespectful.”
Mayorkas made the remarks in June 17 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee on his agency’s fiscal year 2022 budget request, while responding to a series of questions on issues like migration policy and border security operations.
The exchange between Mayorkas and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) was prompted by the South Carolina Republican’s asking the DHS chief whether he had ever had a medical physical exam. After Mayorkas replied in the affirmative, Norman asked him why, then, would President Joe Biden and Harris “not want to go physically look at the border” and talk to border patrol agents, given that the in-person approach is one that “applies in so many other fields.”
Norman also asked whether it was “fair” of Harris to laugh in response to being asked whether she would visit the border in person, with the lawmaker referring to an incident in March in which the vice president replied to the question by saying, “not today,” before laughing and adding, “But I have before and I’m sure I will again.”
Mayorkas replied by saying, “I consider that question to be quite unfair and disrespectful.”
“Let me be very clear,” the DHS chief added. “The President and the Vice President have requested and directed me to visit the border, which I have done on multiple occasions.”
Mayorkas later added, “I am the secretary of Homeland Security and it is my responsibility to manage the border at the direction of the president and the vice president and I have visited the border on multiple occasions.”
The tense exchange came as Harris has faced mounting calls to visit the southern border after Biden tasked her to lead the response to the influx of people seeking to enter the United States, a situation Republicans have called a “crisis,” but which Mayorkas insisted in his testimony was merely a “challenge.”
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) asked Mayorkas whether he viewed the situation along the border as a “crisis,” prefacing his question by referring to a letter-based exchange with DHS officials about expanding detention facilities.
“When I asked when did the government identify the need to expand detention capacity, the response was ‘after January 21, the Department of Homeland Security observed an increase in irregular migrant flows to the southwest border,'” Clyde said.
The letter “goes on to further say, ‘the projected encounters for fiscal year 2021 are expected to be the highest number observed in 20 years,” Clyde said, adding, “Do we have a crisis at the border, Mr. Secretary?”
Mayorkas replied by saying he had “previously articulated many, many times that, as has occurred in the past, we have a challenge.”
Pressed further on the matter, Mayorkas said, “I do not agree with the use of that terminology,” adding, “we have a strategy, we are executing on our strategy, I have confidence in our strategy.”
Throughout Thursday’s hearing, Republican committee members repeatedly raised concerns about border security, including frustrations about the pause in border wall funding and the high level of illegal border crossings.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would visit the U.S.-Mexico border this month with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, after both complained about the surge in illegal immigration.