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WATCH: DHS Secretary Mayorkas defends Biden's handling of southern border

"We expect migration levels to increase as smugglers seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants. We will continue to enforce our immigration laws."

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Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
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In a House Appropriations DHS Subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was heard defending his department’s handling of the immigration boom the southern border experienced last year, and said that they expect those number to increase this year.

The comments came during the subcommittee’s hearing on the department’s 2023 fiscal year budget request.

"We inherited a broken and dismantled system that is already under strain. It is not built to manage the current levels and types of migratory flows. Only Congress can fix this," Mayorkas said.

"Yet, we have effectively managed an unprecedented number of non citizens seeking to enter the United States, and interdicted more drugs and disrupted more smuggling operations than ever before," he continued.

Mayorkas said that a "significant increase" in migration would strain the system further, but that "we will address this challenge successfully."

"But it will take time, and we need the partnership of Congress, state and local officials, NGOs and communities to do so," Mayorkas said.

In regards to the budget, Mayorkas said that the department has requested funding to hire 300 new border patrol agents, an increase he said hasn’t occurred since 2011.

He also requested funding to "counter human and drug smuggling operations, combat the heinous crime of child exploitation and human trafficking, and stop goods produced by forced labor from entering our markets."

In regards to news that Title 42 was set to be lifted in May, Mayorkas said, "we expect migration levels to increase as smugglers seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants. We will continue to enforce our immigration laws."

A boom in southern border migration was expected after the Biden administration announced the end of Title 42 expulsions, which was enacted at the beginning of the pandemic’s public health emergency. That action has now been halted by a Louisiana judge, with lawmakers saying that the administration’s plans to tackle the expected wave of migrations in the wake of Title 42 was inadequate.

"We started our planning last September and we are leading the execution of a whole of government strategy, which stands on six pillars to prepare for and manage the rise in non citizen encounters," he said.

These six pillars include: surging resources to the border, "including personnel transportation, medical support, and facilities," increasing screening efficiency without compromising integrity, "administer consequences for unlawful entry," coordinate with NGOs and local partners, target and disrupt transnational criminal organizations, and deter irregular immigration south of the border in partnership with other agencies and nations.

Later in the hearing, Mayorkas said that the increase in migration flow "is not something unique to the United States."

"This is something that countries throughout the region, throughout the Western Hemisphere, and as we have seen so powerfully and regrettably seen throughout the world," he said on migration increases.

Mayorkas noted the increase in Ukrainians fleeing their home country due to the Russian invasion, Venezuelans migrating to Colombia, as well as other Central American countries.

"These challenges are brought about and made more acute by the COVID-19 pandemic. But some of the causes of irregular migration have only been heightened in years of distress preceding this administration. Economic downturn, an increase in violence, the significant impacts of climate change. These are the forces that drive people to leave their homes that they have established and in which they have grown up for years," said Mayorkas.

Mayorkas also noted in the hearing that the cost of discontinuing the southern border wall project, which was spearheaded by the Trump administration, cost around $72 million to discontinue under the Biden administration.

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