Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday acknowledged that the majority of illegal immigrants encountered at the border are released into the U.S., as he also sought to highlight the number the administration has removed.
Mayorkas spoke on “Special Report” on Thursday and was asked by anchor Bret Baier about Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sources who have told Fox News that they are releasing over 70% of migrants crossing every day.
“It would not surprise me at all. I know the data,” Mayorkas said. “And I will tell you that when individuals are released, they are released into immigration enforcement proceedings. They are on alternatives to detention. And we have returned or removed a record number of individuals. We are enforcing the laws that Congress has passed. “
Separately the secretary said that there are “well more than a million” migrants released into the U.S. annually, and argued repeatedly that it is up to Congress to provide more funding and immigration reform to fix what he has called a “broken” system. He said that the agency is limited in detention capacity by funding provided by Congress.
“When somebody enters the country, we place them in immigration enforcement proceedings pursuant to immigration law, and if their claim for relief, their claim to remain in the United States succeeds, then by law they are able to stay here,” he said.
The interview comes as Mayorkas is facing increasing pressure over the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis at the southern border. There were over 302,000 migrant encounters in December, after an FY 2023 that saw a record 2.4 million encounters overall. A recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report said that the agency had removed 142,580 illegal immigrants in FY 23, up considerably from 72,177 in FY 22 and 59,011 in FY 21, but still down from the highs of 267,258 under the Trump administration in FY 19.
The administration has continued to push for deeper legislative reform and funding, but Republicans have blamed the crisis on the Biden administration’s policies, including its rolling back of Trump-era policies, narrowed ICE enforcement and its expanded releases into the interior. Some have also called for Mayorkas’ impeachment and hearings on that will take place next week.
DHS has said that it has seen more removals since Title 42 ended in May it has removed more than 470,000 people, which is more than in the entirety of FY 2019. It has also said it is working to expand the use of expedited removal and increase deportation flights to Venezuela.
But Fox has also reported that officials have told lawmakers that they are releasing over 5,000 illegal immigrants a day into the U.S. interior, and that doesn’t include the migrants being let in at ports of entry after having used the CBP One app.
The comments comes as negotiations are ongoing between lawmakers and the administration over a supplemental funding request by the administration — which includes $14 billion for border funding. But Republicans have said that the package must increase limits on asylum and the administration’s use of parole, which they say attracts migrants to the border. Senate Democrats have balked at those demands, but the administration has expressed optimism about the talks.
Mayorkas said the magnet was not the policies, but the broken system.
“What is a magnet is the fact that the time in between an encounter of an individual at the border and their final ruling in their immigration case can sometimes take six or more years. That is a magnet, which is why precisely why I am working with Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate to deliver a solution for the American people, to deliver a fix to an immigration system that everyone agrees is broken, and that is long overdue,” he said.
Fox News’ Charles Creitz and Bill Melugin contributed to this report.
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