WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, discussed the ongoing crisis at the southern border at a hearing titled: “Threats to the Homeland.” Senator Portman pressed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to acknowledge that the Biden administration is responsible for the crisis at the southern border due their failed policies which have resulted in the highest level on record of unlawful migrants, unaccompanied children, and deadly narcotics like fentanyl coming into our country. The most recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operational statistics showed that October 2022 was the worst October for border encounters in DHS history which makes it clear that this administration must implement policies that will end the border crisis. Portman highlighted the need for an orderly and lawful immigration system while also addressing the pull factor that incentivizes migrants to make the journey to the United States.
Excerpts from the questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.
Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman…I spoke in my opening statement about the appreciation we have for the men and women who you represent. We just learned from media accounts that five Customs and Border Protection agents were shot, one fatally, during a vessel interdiction against suspected drug smugglers off the coast of Puerto Rico. This just happened and our thoughts and prayers, of course, are with the family of the agent who was fatally shot and also with those agents who were wounded. But I think it’s a sober reminder of the sacrifices that the individuals who you represent today here make every day, and we owe them our support. It’s a dangerous time, and this is an unfortunate example of that. So, with regard to the southern border, we’ve talked a lot about this over the months and years even. How do you take a broken system and fix it? Because clearly, if you look at this chart behind me, it’s broken. We have had all kinds of charts in this Committee and all kinds of discussions about it. There was an interesting back and forth recently between President Biden’s Chief of Border Patrol Raul Ortiz, who works for you, as you know, Mr. Secretary, and the State of Florida. The Attorney General of Florida has a lawsuit against the department with regard to the southern border, and I just thought I’d go over that quickly. This has been the worst year of apprehensions ever, the last fiscal year, but the second worst year was last year. And so these numbers speak for themselves. More than two million people apprehended between the ports of entry in 2022. This summer, when the Chief of Border Patrol was questioned by the State of Florida, he gave his answers under oath. And I would ask unanimous consent to place the transcript of the Border Patrol Chief’s testimony into the record, Mr. Chairman.”
Chairman Gary Peters: “Without objection.”
Portman: “Mr. Secretary, I’m going to ask you the same questions that the Chief of Border Patrol was asked, to see if you agree with him, and if you could please just give me a yes or no answer, as he did. The first question, is the southern border currently in crisis? Yes or no?”
The Honorable Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Ranking Member Portman, the entire hemisphere is suffering a migration crisis. We are seeing an unprecedented movement of people from country to country. It is not restricted to the southern border. We are seeing an unprecedented movement of people throughout the Western Hemisphere. And I think the case of Venezuela is the most compelling example. With a population of between 25 and 28 million people, approximately eight million of them have left that country. Colombia is hosting 2.4 million Venezuelans.”
Portman: “I would ask you for a yes or no answer to the other southern border. I’ve been to Columbia twice in the last year, very aware of what’s going on with regard to the displaced people out of Venezuela, and for that matter, Nicaragua and Cuba. But the question is all the more pressing. So what are we doing about it? Shouldn’t we be changing our policies at the border to deal with it instead of having this result? So my question to you again, is the southern border currently in crisis, yes or no?”
Secretary Mayorkas: “We are seeing a significant challenge at the southern border as we are seeing it throughout the hemisphere.”
Portman: “Okay. Chief Ortiz stated yes. Just so, you know, he said the obvious, which is yes. Second question, would you agree that an unprecedented number of unlawful migrants are entering the United States right now? Yes or no?”
Secretary Mayorkas: “Ranking Member Portman, I believe that the number of encounters that we have had at the border, I think it is approximately 2.3 million this past year, is the highest on record.”
Portman: “Okay, so the answer is yes by Chief Ortiz, and sounds like you agree with him on that. Mr.Secretary, when President Biden took office, is it true that the number of migrants trying to unlawfully enter the United States has increased substantially. Yes or no?”
Secretary Mayorkas: “It has, and there are many different factors that contribute to that.”
Portman: “Okay, I ask you these questions - obviously, his answer was yes. He was candid, and he gave short answers. We can’t fix the problem unless we acknowledge it. We can’t fix the problem unless we understand the facts. We can’t fix the problem unless we’re willing to be honest. Republicans, Democrats, everyone alike saying we’ve got a crisis, and if we don’t fix this crisis at the border, we’ll continue to see the same results.”
Secretary Mayorkas: “Ranking Member Portman, if I may, there’s been a problem with our immigration system, an acknowledged one, unanimously so, for years and years. The system has been broken for years and years.”
Portman: “Well for years and years, but again look at this chart. These are the numbers. So it’s gotten far worse. And look, we don’t have time to go into the details as to how we fix it, but you and I have talked about this a lot, Mr.Secretary, and if the asylum system is not fixed, this won’t end. If we don’t give the Border Patrol more resources, this is not going to end. If we don’t figure out a way to provide for deportations when people are here illegally, particularly when they’re committing other crimes, this will continue. So we are, unfortunately, looking at a situation where, you mention Colombia, if you go to countries throughout the hemisphere, they believe this is a pull factor. Our policies and the leadership of these countries actually don’t want their people moving into the United States. That might seem counterintuitive to some people, but some of their best and brightest are leaving because of our pull factor, because we’re not putting in place the right policies to be able to control our own southern border.”