The number of migrants who are illegally entering into the United States via the southern border has spiked during President Joe Biden’s first two months in office, said the head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday.
“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
Mayorkas, whose agency oversees Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, defended the Biden administration’s response to what some have described as a growing crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. Previously, White House officials and top Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have said it was the previous administration’s policies that triggered the crisis, although Republicans said Biden’s moves to rescind Trump-era executive immigration orders essentially served as a welcome mat for illegal immigrants.
“There is understandably a great deal of attention currently focused on the southwest border,” Mayorkas added. “The situation at the southwest border is difficult. We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so. That is our job. We are making progress and we are executing on our plan.”
Mayorkas avoided using the term “crisis” despite calls for the administration to use stronger descriptive terms.
“We will also not waver in our values and our principles as a nation,” Mayorkas added. “Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together. As noted by the president in his Executive Order, ‘securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them.’ We are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That is one of our proudest traditions.”
A tent facility operated by the Border Patrol in Donna, some 500 miles south of Dallas, is holding more than 1,000 children and teenagers, some as young as four years of age. Lawyers who inspect immigrant detention facilities under a court settlement told The Associated Press they interviewed children who reported being held in packed conditions in the tent, with some sleeping on the floor and others not able to shower for five days.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement Monday asserting the Biden administration’s “reckless open door policies have created a humanitarian crisis for unaccompanied minors coming across the border” and that “his policies are risking the health and safety of Texans and putting children at risk from cartels and human traffickers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.