Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on 28 April told members of Congress that there were more than 389,000 “gotaways” at the U.S.-Mexico border during the fiscal year 2021.
The figure was disclosed in response to questions from Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) during his testimony at an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
Spartz grilled Mayorkas, “Do you have an estimate number of those who were not captured by any cameras and couldn’t be stopped by border patrol because they have a limited capacity?”
In the fiscal year 2021, there were 389,155 migrants crossing the border completely undetected, replied Mayorkas, referring to those who were not apprehended or turned themselves in, and those who got past border agents.
Mayorkas’ testimony comes as the Biden administration is slated to lift Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic border policy first introduced in March 2020 that allowed the United States to turn away migrants at the southern border, without proceeding with the normal lengthy deportation process, based on the risk that they might bring COVID-19 into the country.
The Biden administration said it will end its use of Title 42 in late May given that public health conditions have changed. The move has attracted opposition from politicians from both parties, and triggered legal action from 21 states in a bid to delay or hinder the looming end of emergency border powers. A federal court on April 27 temporarily blocked the administration from lifting the measure, until arguments for a formal injunction can be considered.
The Biden appointee told the House Judiciary Committee in his opening remarks on Thursday, “With the Title 42 public health order set to be lifted, we expect migration levels to increase as smugglers seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants.”
Yet Mayorkas insisted that his agency will be able to handle the expected wave of illegal immigration once Title 42 is terminated.
“We are also sending a clear message in the region to counteract misinformation from smugglers, including that the termination of the Title 42 public health order does not mean that the U.S. border is open,” he said.
That was part of a six-pillar plan for border security that the Department of Homeland Security released on Wednesday.
But Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) accused Mayorkas of using the plan to hide larger immigration issues.
“The bottom line is you put out the six pillars yesterday to cover up the fact that you guys have lost operational control of many parts of the border already,” Katko said.
During his testimony, Mayorkas insisted, “We will not lose operational control of the border.”