Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insisted Wednesday that the border has not deteriorated under President Biden, and shot down claims by the former Border Patrol chief who said things are worse than he’s seen in nearly 30 years of service.
“It is no less secure than it was previously,” Mr. Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee.
He was challenged by the words of Rodney Scott, who served as Border Patrol chief at the end of the Trump era and into the Biden era, but who was ushered into retirement by the new administration.
“Contrary to the current rhetoric, this is not simply another illegal immigration surge. This is a national security threat,” Mr. Scott wrote in a letter to Congress.
In particular, he said, known or suspected terrorists are pouring across the international boundary at a rate never seen before. He urged lawmakers to demand the actual numbers from Mr. Mayorkas.
In hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Mayorkas said he would provide the number, but said it was secret and had to be delivered in a classified setting. But he rejected Mr. Scott’s claims.
“I respectfully disagree with Mr. Scott’s assertion,” he told lawmakers.
The Biden administration shut down a series of Trump policies that had deeply cut into illegal immigration, and a record surge of illegal immigration has followed.
Mr. Mayorkas has acknowledged it is “unprecedented.”
The surge of Haitians into Del Rio, Texas, last week epitomized the difficulties Mr. Mayorkas and his department have faced.
Local officials said more than 15,000 people breached the border and established a beachhead camp on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, coming and going from Mexico at will.
Mr. Mayorkas said his department has made progress in reducing the numbers in the camp — but he also found himself having to explain images of Border Patrol agents who were involved in a rough encounter with some of the Haitian migrants earlier this week.
On Monday, while saying an investigation would take place, Mr. Mayorkas seemed to side with the agents, saying it appeared to him that they were trying “to ensure control of the horse.”
He spoke alongside Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who has himself ridden horse patrol before, and said it looked to him like agents were trying to stay in control of their mounts amid chaotic conditions of the flood of border crossers.
“Trying to take control of those horses so we do not get in a position where we injure a migrant as they’re trying to make that treacherous trek across that river is probably more important than anything and I’m pretty sure and confident that that’s exactly what was happening,” the chief said.
After those comments, Mr. Mayorkas got a call Tuesday from Vice President Kamala Harris, whose office said she expressed “grave concerns” over “mistreatment” of Haitians.
By Wednesday the secretary’s tone had shifted.
He kicked off his remarks to the Homeland Security Committee by announcing he’d sidelined the agents involved, reassigning them until an investigation is completed. And he said the probe is being supercharged to finish in days, if possible.
The secretary said he would “pull no punches” in punishing anyone found to have acted outside the rules.
Rep. Kat Cammack, Florida Republican, said the barbs aimed at agents were striking.
“You were exceptionally quick to judge one of your own agents in the mounted patrol, yet you have given zero time to the number of suicides and agents that have passed away because of contact and contracting COVID with their day-to-day operations. That to me is shameful,” the congresswoman said.
Mr. Mayorkas was indignant, pronouncing her comment “profoundly offensive and wrong.”