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'Undoubtedly Difficult': Mayorkas Says DHS Is Working To Manage Influx At Border

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

Updated March 17, 2021 at 10:30 AM ET

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is testifying to a House committee on the recent surge in migrants — particularly unaccompanied minors — to the U.S.-Mexico border, as Republicans have deemed the uptick in asylum-seekers a "crisis" spurred by the Biden administration.

"The situation is undoubtedly difficult. We are working around the clock to manage it, and it will take time," Mayorkas said in his opening remarks to the committee.

"But we will not waver in our commitment to succeed. That is our job. We will also not waver in our values and our principles as a nation. In the Department of Homeland Security, we can and we will tackle the many challenges we face while complying with our legal obligations and honoring our nation's values and principles."

Watch Wednesday's hearing live.

The United States is on track to see the highest number of migrants on the country's southern border than at any time in the last 20 years, Mayorkas said in a statement Tuesday.

During his campaign, President Biden stressed the importance of taking a humane approach to immigration following the Trump administration's harsh crackdown on illegal immigration.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security began phasing in a new process for asylum-seekers, no longer requiring that they remain in Mexico, as had been law under Donald Trump's administration. But Mayorkas still stressed to potential migrants not to travel to the border while the administration works to get the system up to date.

Republicans have pounced on the surge in migrants, claiming it as evidence of Biden's weakness on immigration and arguing that his approach endangers American lives as well as those of asylum-seekers.

"It's more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak," Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at a news conference on Monday after a tour of the El Paso Processing Center. "This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration."

McCarthy said Border Patrol agents told him that sheltering facilities are quickly reaching capacity and that the number of migrants is "growing exponentially every day."

A DHS document obtained by NPR shows that as of Sunday, 4,276 unaccompanied migrant children were in U.S. government custody. Those minors, who arrived at the U.S. border without a parent or legal guardian, are spending an average of 117 hours in detention facilities, far longer than the 72 hours allowed by law.

The situation is complicated further by the coronavirus pandemic, requiring additional protocols when processing migrants.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.