In a letter initiated by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, he and 14 other Republican senators pressed the Biden administration to “finish the border wall” as the country expects a surge in migrants this week with the ending of a pandemic-era immigration policy.

“Terrorists, traffickers and other bad actors know about our country’s failure to secure the border and they continuously exploit those weaknesses. There is a glaringly simple solution right in front you: we must finish the border wall,” reads the letter, a copy of which was provided to the Deseret News.

The letter, sent Tuesday, was addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who has come under fire by Republican lawmakers for his handling of the “crisis” at the southern border, brought on by a record number of migrant crossings.

Almost 2.4 million migrants crossed the southern border in fiscal year 2022, the highest number on record, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. With 1.2 million encounters during the first six months of fiscal year 2023, it’s possible crossings this year could set a new record.

And those numbers are expected to climb this week with the expiration of Title 42, an immigration policy that allows border patrol agents to turn migrants away during public health emergencies. The policy was implemented in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and will no longer be in force as of Thursday, now that the emergency has officially ended.

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In anticipation of the expected surge, President Joe Biden recently sent 1,500 active duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help agents with monitoring efforts and narcotics detection.

Romney’s letter says the Biden administration’s lack of attention to border security has led to a “humanitarian crisis,” especially for vulnerable children.

“The crisis at the border has also contributed to ongoing harms against migrant children, and has left them vulnerable to exploitation, forced labor and sex trafficking,” the letter reads. “We only know about the current administration’s failure to protect minors from the custody of dangerous or negligent guardians because of congressional oversight, journalists and whistleblowers.”

Romney has been sharply critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the border, and of Mayorkas’ leadership. In December, he told reporters that the administration had shown “raging incompetence” on border security issues, according to Romney’s spokesperson.

Romney has also directly criticized Mayorkas numerous times, including calling last year for him to step down.

At a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing last month, Romney asked Mayorkas to grade the administration’s efforts to secure the nation’s border.

After Mayorkas didn’t assign a grade, Romney assigned one of his own.

“But you’re not willing to give it a grade? I mean, I am. It’s an F. It’s clearly an F. Do you disagree?” Romney said.

At the hearing, Mayorkas told Romney he had approved “almost 130 projects” to improve the border wall. He also defended the Biden administration’s focus on addressing the “root causes” of migration by working with Latin American countries to reduce poverty and improve security.

Taking this approach isn’t about ignoring border security, he said, but “it’s about reducing the level of migration so people who do not want to leave their countries of origin actually have the capacity to remain and build a life for themselves.”

But Romney said he found the administration’s arguments unpersuasive.

“We can’t solve poverty here. We can’t end crime here in our own country. The idea that we’re going to do it in dozens of countries across Latin America and reduce the desire of people to come to America is just not realistic. Let’s devote our resources to securing our border,” he told Mayorkas.

In the letter sent Tuesday, Romney and the other senators asked Mayorkas to respond to a series of questions by May 22, including:

  • How many miles of border wall have been built under Biden.
  • How much money the administration has spent on border wall construction.
  • Details about the border wall projects Mayorkas said he has approved.
  • An estimation of how many migrants the administration expects to cross the border after Title 42 expires.

In addition to Romney, the Republican senators who signed the letter included Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, and John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.