Portman Presses DHS Secretary Mayorkas on Decrease in Unlawful Migrant Arrests as U.S. Faces Worst Border Crisis in Two Decades

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, on the decrease in the number of unlawful migrants that have been arrested and removed from the United States as we face the worst border crisis in two decades. As Ranking Member Portman highlighted in his questioning and has consistently made clear, the current crisis at the southern border is a direct result of its dismantling of the Trump administration’s policies with no consideration of the ramifications of removing those policies and how it would incentivize migration. 

In addition, Portman highlighted the need for increased technology between the ports of entry in an effort to aid Border Patrol in their mission. The FY 2022 DHS budget request for border security assets and infrastructure for this year is $54 million, a deep reduction from the more than $1.5 billion funded for the same area last year. Portman detailed how DHS needs border security technology in addition to other tools in order to make the border safe and secure. 

A transcript of the exchange can be found below and videos can be found here.

Portman: Great. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, we’ve talked about this in our conversations. But as you know, I’m very concerned about the lack of investment in technology between our ports of entry, which is where, obviously, the vast majority of encounters are occurring. The DHS budget request for border security assets and infrastructure is $54 million, which is a deep reduction from the more than $1.5 billion funded for this last year. You’re also asking us to rescind $1.9 billion in funds for border security. You know, over time, a lot of Democrats have said walls are not effective, that technology is what really is effective. And certainly, if you have barriers, you have to have technology so that they can be more useful because, if people aren’t doing the surveillance, then folks will go under or over, around the walls, and yet here we see a big cut in investments, tools like autonomous towers with cameras and sensors, the ground installation of sensors, which you and I saw when we were out there, badly needed, you know, with regard to the El Paso sector, as I recall, though the actual fence is about 80 percent or 90 percent complete and the final completion makes all the sense in the world. We’ve already paid for it. Otherwise, you have a huge problem for the Border Patrol protecting those openings. 

“But what even was more shocking to me is that I was told only about 20 percent of the technology was completed. And on Inauguration Day, when the wall was halted, the so-called construction of the fence, that the technology was ended too. So, I just don’t get that, and I would wonder if you could give us an answer as to why you would want to reduce the amount of funding for technology between the ports of entry and specifically as it relates to technology that could be contained with and make these fencing and other barriers more effective.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas:Ranking Member Portman, you and I have discussed this issue before. We appreciate this Committee’s support of its investments in our technology, which is in fact needed. We have proposed a budget that includes $655 million to modernize our ports of entry, as well as $54.3 million of investments in technology between the ports. I am looking at the projects, project by project. In fact, I just approved the implementation of technology with respect to 33 gates that were not previously operationalized. I also approved in the San Diego sector of our border the implementation of technology to complete that section of the border. And so, as I have mentioned before and as I am committed, I am looking at it project by project to understand the technological needs, the mission needs, and all aspects of the analysis. And I commit to continuing to do so.”

Portman: “With all due respect, you’re not going to have any money to do that if you followed your own budget. And, you know, I know these budgets have to go through an OMB White House process, having been OMB director. But my gosh, I hope you will fight for more money for technology between the ports of entry. That’s where the encounters are taking place. It’s at record levels in terms of the illicit narcotics we’ve talked about, like fentanyl, the worst in over two decades, as you’ve acknowledged, with regard to migrants, and potentially about to get a lot worse with regard to your Title 42 decision. 

“So, you know, from $54 million, you’re not going to be able to do this. You had $1.5 billion funded last year, and you want to see us rescind an additional $1.9 billion. So, you know, policy follows money. And in this case, you’re not providing yourself with the tools you need to be able to allow the Border Patrol to do their job. And I know you know that. With regard to ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, ICE numbers of arrests have dropped considerably as the borders have faced this surge, about a 58 percent decrease between the last administration and this administration. So, I can’t imagine what these ICE agents must be thinking. You know, they were told on Inauguration Day, you know, stop the deportations altogether. And now, they are apparently being told not to arrest people. Otherwise, arrests would not be down almost 60 percent at a time when we have record numbers of people coming into our country. What signal do you think that sends to the traffickers, the human smugglers, and the potential unlawful migrants when there’s such a dramatic decrease in internal enforcement by ICE?”

Secretary Mayorkas: “Ranking Member Portman, I look forward to discussing with you the comments you made after I answered your first question. I have much to say in that regard, but let me answer the question with respect to the ICE agents that you’ve now posed because it is absolutely not true that they have been told not to arrest people. What they are doing is smart and effective law enforcement. They are focusing on the threats to public safety, the threats to national security, the threats to border security just like any responsible and intelligent law enforcement agency and office would do, just as we did in the United States Attorney’s office, of which I was a part for 12 years. In fact, just yesterday we announced the results of Operation SOAR and arrested, over time, 300 individuals who had committed sex offenses that we felt were a public safety threat. 

“We are focused on the people that pose the greatest risk to the safety of the American people. We are engaging in smart and effective enforcement. I have traveled around the country to meet with ICE personnel, to speak with them, to get their ideas about what those threats are, how they think their resources should be best dedicated. Later today, I’m speaking with leaders of that agency on that very same subject. We are dedicated to the protection of the American public in a smart and effective way, not random.”

Portman: Thank you. I’ve got limited time, as you know, and want to respect my colleagues’ time. A 58 percent decrease in arrests at a time of unprecedented – at least the worst in over two decades, in numbers of people coming into the country, let me just ask you this question: How many unlawful migrants have been removed from the United States so far this year by ICE enforcement and removal operations?”

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: “I would be very pleased to share that data with you and your staff. I don’t have that figure in front of me. But let me just say this. When individuals are encountered at the border, single adults are – the majority of them are expelled under the Centers for Disease Control’s Title 42 authority. It’s a public health authority held by the CDC. The majority are expelled. They are turned around. The others are placed into immigration enforcement proceedings. If they successfully make a claim for humanitarian relief under United States law, then as the law recognizes, they can stay. The others who are in immigration enforcement proceedings, if their claims for humanitarian relief fail, they are removed. And in fact, we are making reforms to increase the efficiency and expedition of that process that has never been made before and that is long overdue.”

Portman: Mr. Secretary, my time is expired. As you know, I respect the fact that you’ve spent time with the ICE officers. I respect the fact that you, I think, personally would like to see some changes. But I must respectfully say it’s not true that they are removed. I don’t think any children have yet been removed who came back in the last surge in 2019. I think a 58 percent decrease in arrests indicates a change in policy. I think that the question I asked about how many unlawful migrants have been removed so far this year is one that the response will be quite shocking to people because it will be incredibly low, very close to very few, maybe very few. 

“And so, we’ve been asking for this information for weeks. I appreciate the fact that today you’ve committed to getting us that information because I think the entire Committee needs to see it. So, again, thank you for your testimony today and for your service. And the unprecedented surge deserves a new approach, and I look forward to working with you on that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”