WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan today questioned Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about unaccompanied minors at the southern border and the importance of strengthening border security efforts during a Homeland Security Committee hearing.
To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.
Senator Hassan pressed Secretary Mayorkas on the administration’s preparedness for fluctuating volumes of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border, including coordination between DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services, and supplemental support provided by FEMA and other agencies.
Secretary Mayorkas discussed the focus on building capacity to assist the Department of Health and Human Services. “Given the fluctuations, I just think you will need to have some flexibility there and supports available,” Senator Hassan said in regard to DHS’s capacity to respond to potential increases in unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
Secretary Mayorkas responded that that the President has directed an all-of-government effort to address this issue.
Preventing Dangerous People from Entering the United States
Senator Hassan also questioned Secretary Mayorkas about the United States’ vetting programs, which are designed to identify threats and prevent dangerous people from entering the United States.
When asked whether any of these programs need to be enhanced, Secretary Mayorkas responded that DHS has strong vetting capabilities, but that there is always room for improvement.
“We never rest on what we have achieved,” Secretary Mayorkas said. “We are always looking at how everything we do can be strengthened and improved, and that is especially the case with our vetting programs with the use of new technologies, new analytic tools, [and] new sources of expertise.”
Providing Unaccompanied Minors with Reliable Sponsors
Senator Hassan also raised her concerns about the safety of unaccompanied minors once they are released from government facilities and placed in the care of sponsors, who can be parents, guardians, relatives, or other adults.
“I am concerned…about the vetting process for sponsors,” Senator Hassan said. “For example, in the past HHS has sometimes failed to recognize that people who were sponsoring multiple, unrelated children, could also perhaps be human traffickers…or that sponsors had failed to ensure that children appear in immigration court.”
Secretary Mayorkas told Senator Hassan that the vetting process for sponsors is conducted by experts, and that they are working to ensure that the errors the agency has previously made in this space are not repeated.