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US Secretary of Homeland Security defends his immigration record as House Republicans plan impeachment

Illegal immigration hit record high in 2023, although it dropped in the first days of January. Alejandro N. Mayorkas traveled to Texas to show support for border officers and ask Congress for funds

Alejandro Mayorkas
Migrants try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at Eagle Pass, Texas, during a visit by Republican legislators.KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL (REUTERS)

With illegal immigration to the U.S. at record highs in 2023, and just as House Republicans are preparing to launch a process to impeach him, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas on Monday traveled to the border with Mexico and made a passionate appeal to Congress to approve $6 billion with which to reinforce border control and accelerate processing times.

“We are doing everything we can, within a broken system, to incentivize noncitizens to use lawful pathways, to impose consequences on those who do not, and to reduce irregular migration,” said Mayorkas in a statement at the Eagle Pass border crossing in Texas, across from the Mexican city of Piedras Negras. Illegal immigration is something that the Republican opposition wants to turn into one of the major issues of debate during the campaign for the presidency this year.

In fiscal year 2023, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended nearly two million migrants at the southern border, a figure that is similar to the first two years of President Joe Biden’s term. Before that, under Donald Trump (2017-2021), the highest number of arrests occurred in 2019, when they reached 852,000. Polls indicate that immigration is one of the great concerns of Republican voters.

In December, arrests for illegal border crossings reached an average of 8,400 a day. But the trend has slowed down following a visit to Mexico by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Mayorkas and other senior U.S. officials late last month. Mexican President Manuel Andrés López Obrador has declared that the financial problems that led the Mexican immigration agency to suspend deportations and other operations against irregular migrants have been resolved, without offering more details. Last week, the flow of illicit crossings into the U.S. fell drastically and daily arrests stood at 2,500. The reduction has prompted the U.S. to reopen a series of border crossings that it had closed due to the enormous number of people trying to get through. One of these is Eagle Pass.

We are grateful for Mexico’s renewed enforcement commitments to address the movement of people north,” Mayorkas said. At meetings in Mexico, which will continue in Washington throughout January, the two sides agreed to intensify their efforts to “stop human smuggling, combat trafficking and dismantle criminal networks,” according to the joint statement issued at the time. The Secretary of Homeland Security, for his part, announced a trip in the coming weeks to Central America, where the majority of irregular migrants to the U.S. come from. According to his department, an increase in arrivals from Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela has also been detected.

“We will continue to do everything we can, and we will continue to enforce the law, but we need Congress to make the legislative changes and provide the funding that our frontline officers so desperately need,” noted Mayorkas during his address in Texas.

The White House has included $6 billion for the border in its request to Congress for additional funding, which also includes more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel in this country’s war against Hamas. The Biden administration plans to use that that money to hire more border agents, asylum officers and immigration judges to unblock a long waiting process.

Republicans in Congress are blocking the request for funds for Ukraine and intend to link that item with the introduction of much tougher measures against entry into the U.S. The G.O.P. claims that the money requested by the Biden administration would be directed not at intensifying border control, but at processing existing cases, and therefore would not deter potential irregular migrants from attempting the journey.

This week, House Republicans are planning to start taking steps to impeach Mayorkas for alleged neglect of duties that endangers the country’s security by letting in so many irregular immigrants. If the initiative succeeds, the Secretary of Homeland Security would be the first non-presidential position of a U.S. government to be subjected to this measure in nearly 150 years.

Republicans want the Senate, under Democratic control, to approve a bill known as HR2 that has already received backing in the Republican-controlled House. This legislation would almost completely end the possibility of requesting asylum at the border.

Among other things, it would prohibit claiming asylum if the person requesting it has crossed a third country to reach the U.S., and would grant the Secretary of Homeland Security broad powers to suspend the entry of immigrants to maintain “operational control” of the border. The bill also envisions the construction of the wall that Donald Trump proposed and would eliminate various programs that have allowed hundreds of thousands of people from conflict-afflicted countries to legally enter the United States.

Mayorkas and the Biden administration maintain that they have already adopted a tough position against illegal migration. “The majority of all Southwest Border migrant encounters throughout this administration have been removed, returned, or expelled — the majority of them,” said the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, senators from both parties are negotiating to try to reach an agreement on immigration reform and unblock aid to Ukraine, although so far progress has been slow. Some Democratic legislators, including a group of Hispanic lawmakers, and migrant rights organizations oppose limiting the right to asylum at the border. Legislators must approve budget laws by January 19 and August 2 to avoid a partial government shutdown due to lack of funds.

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