Lankford Questions Head of Homeland Security on Failure to Secure Southern Border
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing entitled, “DHS Actions to Address Unaccompanied Minors at the Southern Border,” at which Lankford finally had an opportunity to question Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on why the crisis at the southern border is not being addressed. Lankford addressed his frustrations on the lack of answers from Mayorkas following the hearing on Facebook
Yesterday, Lankford participated in a press conference to continue to push Biden to secure the southern border and address the national security and humanitarian crisis.. Lankford also called out the Biden Administration for their continued failure to address the crisis at the southern border while secretly recruiting a “volunteer force” of federal employees from NASA, Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Department of Agriculture to work at the border transferring migrants with very few training requirements. Lankford took a trip to the Arizona border in March, during which he visited the unfinished border wall system on the southern border that was halted by the Biden Administration. Lankford also traveled to Texas with a delegation of Senators to tour the Rio Grande Valley area of the southern border as part of his ongoing work to provide necessary oversight of the crisis. Lankford spoke about the situation at the southern border on the Senate floor and sent a letter to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro highlighting President Biden’s suspension of border wall funding and construction without lawful justification.
On DHS failing to finish the wall
Lankford: …The last time you were here during the process of the nomination I asked you about the border wall. You said you were studying that and would study it, and I understand the Administration called for a study that was completed the 21st of March. And none of us have seen the results of that study, though there was a press release that came out of your office saying that they were now protecting the border communities from the wall at this point. When I was down at the border area—you’ve been down there as well a couple of times, thanks for doing that—in Arizona this is what I saw. The day that border wall construction stopped, miles and miles of wall with the gates incomplete. This seems to be the status that we’re still at. This is nonsensical. As you know the Border Patrol now has to park a vehicle right there next to that gap because on the other side of this fence is a city of 450,000 people, from the Arizona side into Mexico. So, my question to you is: what’s the result of the study on the border wall completion. There’s $1.4 billon that was passed with a bipartisan majority last year that is in the law to be able to complete this. Where is this going?
Mayorkas: Two things, if I may. Number one: we have committed to finishing the levies as well as addressing the erosion of land under roads adjacent to the wall as two public health imperatives. We have made that decision. And we are studying the very issue that you identified here about how are we going to address what is the most effective way to address gates and the completion of gates as well as the closing of gaps. That is something that is under review now.
Lankford: So this requires a review to be able to evaluate if you should just hang the gate and the steel is sitting right there, if that should be complete?
Mayorkas: The review is indeed underway.
On court orders being followed at the border
Lankford: There was a court order that was done by Judge Tipton about the moratorium, a 100-day moratorium was announced to not deport individuals, even if a court had said they have a final order of removal. The Biden Administration announced that. A federal court in Texas immediately said, ‘No, you can’t just do that.’ In the mean-time since that’s occurred, if I’m tracking these numbers correctly, ICE removals have fallen anyway by 50 percent from January to April of this year and by 70 percent from October to April of this year. So I want to ask you, are you complying with the federal court order that ruled that you can’t just stop, you have to continue to be able to remove people that have a final order of removal?
Mayorkas: We are complying with the court order, Senator. The policy was promulgated at the outset that there would be a pause on removals to enable the Administration to review the policies. The court did in fact enjoin that pause, and the pause was indeed lifted and new guidelines were issued.
Lankford: That’s a pretty stark drop in removals, though, that’s already happened this year. The policy seems to be for ICE removals and for enforcement priorities that it seems to be pretty high criteria at this point for removals, and if they’re not on the pre-determined list to be able to be removed, they have to go get permission in advance to be able to remove someone. ICE informed my staff on April the 8th of this year that ‘enforcement action directed at sex offenders that do not meet the aggregated felony criteria will require pre-approval from the field office director or special agent in charge.’ So my question is about this, can you share with us today the number of sex offenders that ICE has declined to deport this year because they did not meet that criteria?
On Title 42 authority
Lankford: You and I spoke about this last time that you were here, saying that you’re going to study it and try to examine what to do on this. There’s a significant number of people—in fact of the 178,000 people that were encountered at the border last month, 111,000, almost 112,000, of them were turned around due to Title 42. The question is, how are you examining, what’s your criteria for dropping Title 42, and what’s your plan? Because if you drop Title 42 at this point, there’s 112,000 more people that are actually engaging across the border.
Mayorkas: Title 42 is the CDC’s public health authority…
Mayorkas: It is not a tool of immigration. It is a tool of public health, and therefore the use of Title 42 will be governed by the CDC’s analysis of the public health imperative.
Lankford: But is that the public health imperative in Mexico or in the United States?
Mayorkas: It’s the public health imperative with respect to the American people.