WASHINGTON — Republicans on Capitol Hill this week offered a preview of how they plan to attack the Biden administration’s immigration policies as the midterm elections approach, in an effort to blame Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. giving a historic peak in migration across the southwestern border.
Through more than eight hours of testimony and sometimes heated exchanges over two days of hearings on Capitol Hill, Mr. Mayorkas did no such thing.
“I have a feeling America needs you to own this thing, dear sir,” Louisiana Republican Representative Clay Higgins said Wednesday during a hearing led by the House Homeland Security Committee. “Speak to the American people and own this thing. We’re losing our country down there. We want you to resign.”
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Representative Ken Buck, the Republican from Colorado, said his voters believe Mr Mayorkas committed treason and should be impeached.
Mr Mayorkas replied: ‘What you have just said is so deeply insulting on so many different levels, in so many different ways. I won’t ask you for an apology.”
The stark ideological differences over immigration are nothing new, but a once obscure public health rule used to curb immigration during the pandemic has become the face of the issue as its deadline, May 23, approaches.
While the stated purpose of the rule, known as Title 42, is to limit the spread of the coronavirus in border patrol facilities and border towns, Republicans and even some moderate Democrats now see it as a powerful tool to control immigration as Congress continues to punt over it. making extensive changes to the country’s immigration laws.
Several Republican-led states have filed lawsuits to enforce the public health rule.
The number of undocumented migrants crossing the southern border has increased since President Biden took office. March set a record for most crossings in one month in decades: 221,303. The influx has at times overwhelmed border officials, who lament being trapped inside and doing the paperwork to process migrants rather than patrol the hundreds of miles of border the agency is tasked with protecting.
Despite the public health rule, the Biden government has allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants into the country to undergo deportation proceedings, mostly families with young children. The Trump administration also admitted large numbers of migrants during a peak in migration in 2019. Many newcomers apply for asylum, a process that can take six to eight years, but require them to wait in the United States for a decision.
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Title 42 gives Border Patrol agents the power to evict people without asking if they are afraid of returning to the country they came from, a process that takes considerably longer.
Lifting the rule, critics say, will lead to a collapse of operational control along the southwestern border.
When it was introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, it was believed the end was in sight for the public health emergency, which would lead to the rule being lifted. It was long believed that eliminating it would increase the number of undocumented migrants crossing the southwestern border.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration came under heavy pressure from Democrats to lift the rule, as the pandemic had reached a phase of relatively few hospitalizations and cases of serious illness.
In late March, the Department of Homeland Security released a 16-page Operations Plan for the Southwest Border outlining how the government would respond to an increase in migration; the plan said officials were preparing for as many as 18,000 migrants a day.
Days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced they would be lifting the emergency rule later this spring, sparking outrage from both Republicans and some Democrats whose seats are vulnerable in the midterm elections.
In the weeks that followed, lawmakers from both sides demanded a plan for how the government would respond to a spike in migration without being able to expel people quickly under public health rule; it wasn’t clear if they hadn’t seen the Homeland Security Department’s plan or just disapproved of it. But their demands sparked high-level hand-wringing in the White House over whether the lifting of the injunction on May 23 could lead to losing control of the House and Senate next year.
A new 20-page memo further outlining the plan was drafted and released this week, ahead of Mr. Mayorkas’ appearances on Capitol Hill, to discuss the department’s budget request for the 2023 spending year. The memo contained a strategy broken down into six “pillars,” as well as 17 pages of background information on the dysfunctional immigration system inherited from the Biden administration and a summary of steps the administration has taken to resolve it.
The pillars include mobilizing more staff and support at the border; take new measures to speed up the processing of migrants to avoid overcrowding at border stations; move to quickly remove migrants who are not allowed to enter the country, as was done before the pandemic; work with non-profit organizations that can help migrants who are allowed to stay in the country after being released from custody; targeting smugglers; and work with other countries in the region to limit migration.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it “laughable” when he spoke on the Senate floor about Thursday on the fact that the administration is not prepared for the expected increase in the number of crossing migrants.
During the hearings this week, Democrats cited the plan and gave Mr Mayorkas the opportunity to discuss it during a testimony.
Republicans and Democrats argued over which administration had worse immigration policies, pointing to Mr Trump’s restrictive approach and President Biden’s more liberal approach.
At one point during the Homeland Security Committee hearing, Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan, briefed Republicans, her fellow Democrat legislators and Mr. Mayorkas.
“Our immigration system is broken,” she said. “Everyone here, along with the secretary, has a part of that responsibility.”
She added: ‘If you’re going to criticize what’s happening at the border, submit a piece of legislation to make it better. Don’t just use it as a political cudgel.”
Republicans and Democrats have proposed multiple legislative proposals to address the borderline situation, but none have succeeded in bridging the partisan divide.