Portman: Losing Title 42 Will Turn This Border Crisis into a Catastrophe

WASHINGTON, DCToday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered an opening statement at a hearing with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, to examine the resources and authorities DHS needs to protect and secure the homeland. Portman pressed Secretary Mayorkas on the ongoing failure of DHS to address the border crisis, which is currently facing the highest number of unlawful migrants coming over the border in more than two decades. Portman highlighted that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are overwhelmed by the surge of unlawful migrants at our southern border as well as the record amounts of illicit deadly drugs, like fentanyl, coming across the border and into the United States.

Portman discussed how the March CBP operational statistics showed fentanyl seizures at the southern border increased 56 percent in March compared to March 2021 a year ago and over 300 percent increase from March 2020. Those same statistics showed a 33 percent increase in encounters of unlawful migrants at the southern border compared to February and a 78 percent increase from last March, and a 300 percent increase from March 2020. Portman discussed the need for the administration to put in place smart policies that address the need for legal and orderly processes for migration and reduce the pull factors that encourage unlawful migration.

In addition, Portman expressed his frustration on the lack of proper screening and vetting for Afghan evacuees after the administration’s chaotic evacuation as well the need to improve the intelligence and information sharing between other countries with regard to high-risk individuals coming into the United States. Portman highlighted how the recent hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas occurred because of gaps and weaknesses in DHS‘ systems and processes for screening criminals and extremists seeking entry into the United States. 

Portman also voiced his deep concerns with the administration’s decision to create a Disinformation Governance Board at DHS. As the author of the bipartisan law that established the Global Engagement Center to combat the constantly evolving threat of foreign propaganda and disinformation abroad, Portman does not believe that the United States government should turn the tools that we have used to assist our allies counter foreign adversaries onto the American people.

Finally, Portman highlighted the need for DHS to significantly enhance our nation’s ability to combat ongoing cybersecurity threats against our critical infrastructure and the federal government. He expressed his concern that Russia may use cybersecurity vulnerabilities to attack the United States in retaliation for our just support of Ukraine.

A transcript of his opening statement can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us again for this budget hearing. At last year’s budget hearing, I noticed that we were facing the worst unlawful migration crisis in our country in two decades, and this chart that’s about to come up will show you that not only was it the worst in two decades last year during the hearing, but since then it’s gotten even worse.

“As you know, in your recently released border plan, you suggested that it can get worse yet by removing Title 42. Here’s your quote. You noted in your border plan that, ‘When the Title 42 public health order is lifted, we anticipate migration levels will increase as smugglers will seek to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants.’ You further noted that, ‘A significant increase in migrant encounters will substantially strain our system even further.’

“I couldn’t agree with you more. A record one million people who came to the southern border illegally were permitted into the United States last year. Even with roughly 50 percent of those who came to the border unlawfully having been turned away under Title 42. It is clear to all that losing Title 42 will turn this border crisis into a catastrophe. As the Border Patrol has told us, they believe they will lose all operational control of the border. There is no plan to substitute for Title 42 as an example. There is no plan to fix an asylum system that everyone agrees is broken. I think you’ve said that in the past. Publicly, there is no plan to replace the tools that were in place during the last administration to help address the border crisis, including a robust Remain in Mexico policy and increased attention of questionable asylum seekers. Instead, as I read it, your proposed plan primarily provides more resources to move people through the system and to do so more quickly and efficiently, in effect, to make it easier for people to get from the border to the interior of the country.

“Unfortunately, decisions to deemphasize internal enforcement, plus your funding requests shift away from detention for removals and detention capacity, and the new asylum rules proposed by the administration do nothing to actually deter unlawful migration. Quite the opposite, and the smugglers know it.

“This year, we also saw stark reminders of the threat that terrorism poses to communities across the country, and that more than two decades after 911, our borders can still be breached by those who mean to do us harm.

“In this regard, I am concerned that policies and safeguards with one of our closest counterterrorism partners in the world, United Kingdom, didn’t prevent a dangerous man who simply lied on his online application in the DHS visa waiver program for making his way into our country to a small town in Texas, Colleyville. Thankfully, none of the synagogue members he took hostage were harmed, but that easily could not have been the case. We were recently shocked when we were informed that 42 people who have come to our southern border unlawfully and been encountered by the Border Patrol are on a terrorist watch list.

“Additionally, a recent report from the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General highlighted the potential of other foreign threats. The IG found that in the chaotic evacuation of over 76,000 Afghans, DHS failed to screen the evacuees using DoD’s tactical information collected from the most dangerous terrorists. The result? DoD’s after-the-fact analysis indicated there are at least 50 Afghan evacuees with, ‘Potentially serious security concerns who were released into the United States.’

“Of course, there’s also an assault on our borders by criminal drug trafficking organizations. This is not new, but it’s gotten worse with the shift of fentanyl production from China to Mexico. The flow of these dangerous narcotics across our border have profound consequences. According to the Customs and Border Protection statistics, fentanyl seizures at the southern border increased 56 percent in March compared to March 2021 a year ago and over 300 percent increase from March 2020. These numbers don’t actually tell us how much is actually flooding into our communities. In fact, the Border Patrol tells us that they believe the vast majority of drugs are not being apprehended. But in my home state of Ohio and around the country, these drugs are coming in and resulting in broken families, damaged communities, and the loss of lives through overdoses on a massive scale.

“We are also facing constant cyberattacks to our vulnerable critical infrastructure and federal networks. I’m concerned that due to our support of Ukraine against Russia’s illegal invasion, our just support of Ukraine, we are at higher risk than ever of a Russian cyberattack. I appreciate your support of the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act that Senator Peters and I cosponsored and hope that Department of Homeland Security is working with stakeholders in industry and in government today on complex but critical rulemaking processes needed to put this new law to work to safeguard our nation as soon as possible.

“As you know, from our conversations, I’m concerned by the administration’s decision to create this disinformation governance board at DHS. As the author of the bipartisan law that established the Global Engagement Center at the State Department to combat the evolving threat of foreign propaganda and disinformation, I do not believe the government should turn tools used to assist our allies and counter foreign adversaries onto the American people. Our focus should be on bad actors like Russia and China, Iran, North Korea, not our own citizens.

“Mr. Secretary, you’ve got a very full agenda at the Department. You’ve been put in a very difficult position with regard to the border. Thank you once again for being here to answer our questions, but I do want to note that we only today received all your responses to the Committee’s questions for the record from last year’s budget hearing. I would hope that you will commit today to answering all of our questions much more promptly as we discuss these issues today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”