Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised senators on Wednesday that he‘s pushing ICE to deport more people, as he defended the agency’s record-low number of removals last year.
“We are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, specifically Enforcement and Removal Operations, to increase the number of removals that we’re able to effectuate,” he told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
His commitment to deportations is at the crux of the looming border surge.
Many of the 2 million or so people expected to cross the border this year will make bogus asylum claims, and Mr. Mayorkas says after they go through their immigration process they will be swiftly removed.
“That’s just not accurate,” countered Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.
He pointed to the current numbers, which showed 1.2 million people already facing deportation orders, and ICE making just 59,000 removals last year. That’s the lowest figure on record, and well below the more than 400,000 removals ICE made in 2012 under President Obama, when Mr. Mayorkas ran the government’s citizenship agency.
SEE ALSO: Calls to impeach DHS Secretary Mayorkas spread to immigrant rights supporters
Mr. Mayorkas first challenged Mr. Portman, saying he was wrong about the number of deportations, before realizing Mr. Portman was in fact correct.
That’s when the secretary vowed to increase the number of people ICE ousts — though he offered explanations for why that will be tough. He said an increasing number of border crossers are from countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, which don’t cooperate in taking back illegal immigrants, and where the U.S. might not want to return them anyway.
Mr. Portman said those are tiny fraction of the illegal immigrants here.
“I’ll give you a chance here. Would you like to change your assertion that asylum seekers who do not prevail are promptly removed from the United States?” the senator said.
“No, we are doing that to the fullest extent that we can,” the secretary said.
“You’re not doing it to the fullest extent you can, and you know that,” Mr. Portman replied. “It’s just not accurate.”
SEE ALSO: Mayorkas takes responsibility for picking Jankowicz to lead disinformation board
Mr. Mayorkas did commit to delivering more fulsome data on ICE’s enforcement within 30 days.
The agency has developed a full report on its 2021 activities at its Enforcement and Removal Operations division, but that report has not been released. Instead, the agency released only a snapshot of those charts in an agency-wide report.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the committee, said she was unsatisfied with what ICE has produced, saying it seemed the agency was obfuscating its performance by altering how it presented data.
The Times has obtained data from the unreleased report that showed just how much enforcement has crumbled with the Biden administration in charge.
The data shows ICE arrested 48% fewer criminals, deported 63% fewer criminals, and placed 46% fewer detainer requests in 2021.
Mr. Mayorkas on Wednesday was completing his fifth appearance on Capitol Hill in two weeks, where he‘s come under fire for the chaos of the border.
He has said he believes the border is under “operational control.” Pressed on that, he said he defined operational control as a process question of whether he‘s “maximizing the resources we have.”
“Over a quarter of a million people that crossed the border illegally in one month — we do not consider that operational control,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican.
At several points during the hearing, Mr. Mayorkas said the border numbers aren’t as bad as they may seem. That’s because a number of those crossing are recidivists.
Of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants caught at the southern border so far this year, 27% of them have made at least one previous attempt in the last 12 months. Mr. Mayorkas said that’s a product of the Title 42 border policy which immediately expels some illegal immigrants, who quickly turn around and try again.
But Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged even subtracting the repeat offenders, illegal immigration is surging. And his department projects that when Title 42 ends as scheduled later this month, arrests could triple as more people surge with the hope of gaining a foothold.
Some Democrats joined Republicans in questioning the secretary’s readiness.
“My issue is making sure we have the resources in place and the execution capacity, before Title 42 is lifted,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.