Sen. Mitt Romney lambasted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — again — for failing to secure the U.S. border with Mexico and suggested it might be time for him to go.
The U.S. Border Patrol has reported more than 1 million encounters with migrants along the southwest border so far this year, putting it on pace to exceed last year’s record-high of 1.7 million. Another 60,000 cross the border undetected each month, Romney said.
“I’d say this is an extraordinary failure, and I don’t know where all the fault lies. I don’t know whether it’s the fault of the president not allowing you to have the policies you need to have a record that’s more like the prior administration or whether it’s your own failings as a leader,” the Utah Republican told Mayorkas in a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
“But one or the other, this is a failed record and would cry for a change in leadership.”
Wednesday wasn’t the first time Romney, who was among six Republicans who voted to confirm Mayorkas last year, has gone after the Homeland Security secretary, and President Joe Biden on border issues.
Last fall, he called the Biden administration’s immigration policy a “monumental disaster,” and said that alone would be enough to leave the federal government “hanging on by a thread,” even if there were not so many other disasters.
Romney said the solution to securing the border includes finishing the wall started during the Trump administration and keeping the former president’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires some asylum seekers to return to Mexico to await a hearing in U.S. immigration court.
Romney also wants Biden to retain Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that has led the Border Patrol to turn away hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. from Mexico over the past two years.
“You do that and guess what? This is going to come back to the way it was,” Romney said.
Mayorkas said the Biden administration is very concerned that the end of Title 42 could result in an increase in encounters at the border.
“However, that is precisely why in September of 2021, understanding that Title 42 would not be around forever, we began to plan and prepare for its end,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intends to end its Title 42 public health order on May 23. That date, however, is in question because of Republican-led lawsuits seeking to keep the policy in place.
Mayorkas outlined a six-pillar plan in a memo last month to deal with ending the policy. It includes increasing border agents, transportation, medical support and facilities to support border operations. Homeland Security is ready to hold 18,000 noncitizens in custody, up from 13,000 at the beginning of 2021, according to the memo.
The plan also calls for increased use of expedited removal, detaining single adults when appropriate, referring for prosecution those whose conduct warrants it, and accelerating asylum adjudications to more quickly process and remove those who don’t qualify.
Romney said the administration record on immigration is “devastating to our country.”
Utah, he said, is desperate for more workers in trucking, health care and agriculture. Those industries want to have more visas available to bring people into the country who can fill those jobs.
“But we can’t make these kinds of reforms to our legal immigration system because the illegal immigration system is a disaster. So we can’t solve the problems of legal immigration until you secure our border, a job you’re not doing,” Romney told Mayorkas.
“So in other words, senator, we have a problem, and one of the solutions is legislation?” Mayorkas said.
“The solution is to do what was done prior to you taking office,” Romney retorted.
Mayorkas said there is a need for labor in the U.S. The Biden administration, he said, has spoken of the need for safe, orderly and legal immigration so people don’t need to make that journey across the border.
“We will never have the labor that we need and the legal immigration system fixed to get us the visas we desperately need until you secure the border. You are incapable of doing that with the policies you described. Only by returning to policies that were there before can you do it. That has got to be done or we need to have new leadership to do that,” Romney said.
Mayorkas said legislation is the “single-most enduring solution” to the problem of regular migration.
“We have told you time and time again we will put in place the legislation that solves our legal immigration woes once you secure the border,” Romney said. “What we will not do is legalize all sorts of individuals who come here illegally, at the same time people keep flowing in illegally. You’ve got to secure the border.”