WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday defended the Biden administration’s response to an increase in southern border crossings, saying the decision not to expel unaccompanied children upholds "our values and our principles as a nation."
Mayorkas, making the rounds on the Sunday morning political talk shows, said the Biden administration has repeatedly urged migrants not to make the journey across the U.S.-Mexico border and would continue to deliver a message of "do not come."
"Our message has been straightforward: The border is closed," Mayorkas said during an appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press." "We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults, and we've made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children."
The U.S. has seen an uptick in border apprehensions over the past 10 months, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. More than 100,000 migrants were apprehended by U.S. border agents last month, a 28% increase from January, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Last month, agents processed 9,500 unaccompanied minors, a 61% increase from January.
The Biden administration has faced questions over its handling of minors detained at the border. Lawmakers and activists alike have questioned the use of detention centers to hold children until they can be placed with an adult relative living in the U.S., or at other temporary housing facilities as they await the outcome of their asylum requests.
Mayorkas blamed President Donald Trump's administration for the current logjam in getting children processed before the 72-hour period required by law, telling "Fox News Sunday" that Trump’s hard-line immigration policies dismantled a "safe and orderly immigration system."
Under Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy, migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. were turned away at the border and told to await an asylum hearing in Mexico. Biden lifted that rule during his first days in office.
Trump also required Central American migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to first petition for asylum in a "safe third country" such as Guatemala or Mexico, but immigration advocates have argued neither of those countries provides harbor from gangs and violence.
"We will not abandon our values and our principles, we will not abandon the needs of vulnerable children. That is what this is all about," Mayorkas said on CNN’s "State of the Union."
"It is difficult because the entire system was dismantled by the prior administration," he added. "There was a system in place in both Republican and Democratic administrations, that was torn down during the Trump administration, and that is why the challenge is more acute than it ever has been before. We are rebuilding the orderly systems that the Trump administration tore down to avoid the need for these children to actually take the perilous journey."
Republican lawmakers on the Sunday show circuit argued that Biden’s repeal of some of the Trump administration’s immigration policies has spurred the increase in migrants arriving at the border seeking asylum.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told ABC’s "This Week" he believed the numbers would continue to increase as they typically do in the spring and summer.
"The message is coming back that, ‘Hey, we've got a new president — come on in. We're open for business to the traffickers.’ And guess what? They're right here," McCaul said.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) appearing on CBS’ "Face the Nation," said despite the Biden administration urging migrants not to come, the message was not being received, and he urged the administration to "change course."Portman, who recently traveled to the border, said he spoke with a migrant "who told me that they heard what President Biden said, and they decided to come anyway because they can make more" money working in the United States.