Calls to resign rained down on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday as he insisted the border was secure, while struggling to answer questions about illegal immigration and the flow of deadly fentanyl.
Animosity ran high as Mr. Mayorkas testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, packed with some of Washington’s most vocal conservatives who peppered him with questions about what has gone wrong over the last two years.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said fentanyl from Mexico now kills twice as many people each month as died in the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and Mr. Mayorkas has fueled it.
“Look what’s happened. And you know how it happened? You took all the policies that were working, and you changed them, and it’s blown up in our face,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz demanded the secretary take responsibility for the soaring number of migrants who have died or been raped as they seek to rush the U.S. border, taking advantage of the more relaxed Biden policies.
“Your behavior is disgraceful and the deaths, the children assaulted, the children raped, are at your feet,” the Texas Republican thundered. “And if you had integrity you’d resign.”
SEE ALSO: Mayorkas ‘not aware’ cartels use illegal immigrants to distract border agents
Mr. Mayorkas called the line of questions “revolting” and said he wouldn’t dignify them with a response.
“You are so profoundly disrespecting my 22 years of government service,” he said.
The nastiness of the exchange underscored the tricky politics at play.
The border chaos is at record levels, and most security analysts say the Biden administration policy changes have fueled the crisis. Yet GOP efforts to try to impeach Mr. Mayorkas have stumbled in the House, where backers say they don’t have enough votes.
Lacking a big stick, Republicans were left with loud words to aim at the secretary.
Mr. Cruz said Border Patrol agents “despise” Mr. Mayorkas, whom he accused of lacking any understanding of what is happening.
At one point the senator held up a photo of wristbands gathered at the border. Smugglers will give them to migrants to help sort out who’s going where, and who still owes money and must be held until payoff.
But Mr. Mayorkas said he wasn’t aware of that aspect.
“You have just testified to the American people that you are incompetent at your job,” Mr. Cruz said.
After Mr. Mayorkas was unable to say whether Chinese Communist Party members have been among the growing number of Chinese migrants being caught and released into the U.S., Sen. Josh Hawley grew exasperated.
“You don’t know any of the details,” he said. “You have exhausted me, you have exhausted this panel, you have exhausted the patience of the American people. You should resign.”
At another point in the hearing Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, asked Mr. Mayorkas about smuggling cartels’ use of illegal immigrants to district Border Patrol agents.
While the agents are busy nabbing the migrants, the cartels will send over higher-value contraband such as drugs.
“I am not aware of that as a strategy,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
“You’ve simply lost all credibility, Mr. Secretary,” Mr. Cornyn replied, pointing out that Attorney General Merrick Garland had acknowledged the strategy just a couple of weeks ago in his own testimony.
John Modlin, Mr. Mayorkas’ top Border Patrol agent in Arizona’s Tucson sector, also told Congress last month that the cartels are using migrants to keep agents distracted.
“Task saturation is a term we use to describe a tactic where smuggling organizations split large groups of migrants into many smaller groups. These small groups are then directed to illegally cross the border all at once and at different locations, effectively saturating the area with migrants and exhausting our response capability,” he said.
Chief Modlin said the cartels are doing it intentionally.
When Republicans in Tuesday’s hearing pointed to record numbers of crossings, Mr. Mayorkas pointed to record numbers of people expelled at the border under the Title 42 pandemic policy.
Title 42 expires in May and Mr. Mayorkas is trying to cobble together a new policy to handle an expected resurgence.
He touted the success of a program announced in January to allow migrants from four Western Hemisphere nations who lack permission to be in the U.S. to apply for an appointment to check in and enter, rather than jump the border.
He said that’s proved to be wildly successful in tamping down on border numbers over the last couple of months.
Mr. Mayorkas also said the administration has “operational control” of the border — at least according to his own definition.
He said he defines that as “maximizing the resources that we have to deliver the most effective results.”
“The Border Patrol agents and all the personnel of the Department of Homeland Security are doing heroic work in that regard,” the secretary said.
He rejected the definition of “operational control” written into law, which requires detection and deterrence of every attempted illegal entry. He said under that definition, the border has never been under control.
“Did you just parachute in from another planet, Mr. Secretary? Because you’re the only person in the Milky Way who believes that we’re not having massive, massive illegal immigration into America,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican.
Republicans pointed out that Raul Ortiz, the nation’s top Border Patrol official, has said the border is not under control, nor is it secure.
In testimony earlier this month he said five of nine sectors along the southwestern boundary are not secure, and neither is one sector on the northern border.
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, also challenged Mr. Mayorkas over plans to cut the number of detention beds used to hold illegal immigrants.
The Biden budgets for 2023 and 2024 called for 25,000 beds, or 9,000 fewer than Congress has ordered.
But Mr. Mayorkas said those numbers were just part of the story and called those beds a baseline. He said his department has requested a massive contingency fund that he might use to add more beds if he thinks it’s needed.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaves thousands of beds empty every day right now. ICE reported 27,251 people in detention as of Monday, or nearly 7,000 shy of the average daily capacity.