Homeland Security Chief Says US-Mexico Border ‘Not Open’ Amid Surge

March 17, 2021 Updated: March 18, 2021

Department of Homeland (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers on Wednesday that the surge of illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border is not a “crisis,” saying that the Biden administration is “working around the clock” to deal with it.

GOP lawmakers and some Democrats have termed the surge a “crisis,” which has not been adopted by senior White House administration officials or top Democrats in Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats have blamed each other for exacerbating the crisis—as the GOP pointed to President Joe Biden’s moves starting in January to rescind a number of former President Donald Trump’s immigration orders, while Democrats said Trump’s orders were what led to the situation.

The administration has struggled to deal with a growing number of children crossing the southern border, along with a lack of testing for COVID-19.

Mayorkas told members of Congress that “the border is secure and the border is not open,” adding that immigration officials are “expelling under the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] public health authority in light of the pandemic.”

“Single individuals who arrive at the border. We are expelling families under that same public health authority, limited only by the capacity of Mexico to receive them,” he added.

The U.S. Border Patrol, an agency overseen by DHS, has expanded testing capacity so migrants can be tested for COVID-19, according to the secretary.

“Customs and Border Protection did not have the capacity to test in its facilities, and now we are entering into a contract with one vendor to begin and we will expand as needed so that we can test in the CBP facility, when the other mechanisms of which I have spoken are not available,” Mayorkas, who previously worked in the DHS in the Obama administration, told lawmakers.

For weeks now, Republicans and Democrats—including lawmakers whose districts lie on the border—have pushed the administration to take action to deal with the border surge.

Border Patrol agents reported 100,441 encounters with migrants in February, according to the agency, and that figure represents a 28 percent increase from January. As the spring and summer approach, that figure will most likely increase.

During the hearing, Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee said Biden’s policies triggered the surge, arguing that federal immigration officials were unprepared.

“We’ve both seen this movie before and we know the plot and we know the outcome,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Wednesday.

“Deterrence does work,” McCaul said. “I think words do matter. I think you sent exactly the wrong message when you said, ‘We are not saying don’t come. We are saying don’t come right now.’ That is not a message of deterrence.”

Biden in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, meanwhile, attempted to discourage would-be migrants from making the trek to the border.

“I can say quite clearly: Don’t come,” he said and continued to say: “We’re in the process of getting set up. Don’t leave your town or city or community.”