Katko Opening Statement in Hearing with DHS Secretary Mayorkas
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following opening statement in a hearing with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas:
Thank you for holding this important hearing, today, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witness, Secretary Mayorkas, for appearing, as well.
I can’t think of a more important time for both sides of the aisle to work together on threats facing the homeland. The issues we face each and every day are more complex and severe than I have ever seen, and we will only be successful by working together.
In just the first few months of the 117th Congress, we have faced the ongoing pandemic, a deadly winter storm in the South, an attack on the U.S. Capitol, fallout from cyber attacks that have had significant impacts on both individuals and corporations, and a burgeoning crisis along our southern border. Not to mention threats from authoritarian nation states like China and Russia that are only getting more emboldened in their malign activities.
Just recently, a cyber attack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server is believed to have infected tens of thousands of entities across government and industry alike. Much like the SolarWinds cyber campaign, we probably will not know the extent or the damage caused by this attack for a while. Mr. Chairman, I know that you and I are lockstep on this issue, as is the Secretary. I truly believe that cybersecurity is the preeminent threat to our national and homeland security and if we don’t act swiftly and decisively, we will come to regret it.
Additionally, we are now facing a crisis on the southern border that could have and should have been avoided. Through irresponsible rhetoric and actions by this Administration, we are seeing an unprecedented crisis unfold during a pandemic.
The situation at the border continues to get worse every day, with inadequate action, and no proper acknowledgement of the severity of the situation. I just returned from the border where I started my career as a federal organized crime prosecutor in the mid-90s, and I can tell you without hesitation that it is indeed a crisis that continues to deepen each and every day.
One thing that deeply disturbed me was the number of children being encountered along the border, exposed to the elements and having experienced a dangerous, traumatic journey. As we quickly approach peak levels of unaccompanied children crossing the border, I am concerned that the Administration’s rhetoric and policies are encouraging more to attempt this dangerous journey.
Mr. Secretary, as I said during our phone call a few weeks ago and again just yesterday, I want to find ways to work together to keep the homeland safe. It’s not about who gets credit. It’s about doing the right thing for America. I also told you that I would be frank and transparent with you when I believe that the Department and Administration is not living up to its end of that bargain.
Regrettably, that is where we find ourselves today. I am deeply concerned that this Administration has created a border crisis through predictably misguided policies, denied the reality of the situation, and dodged accountability.
At the same time that American schools remain closed across the country, the United States border is open to foreign nationals.
After taking office, President Biden wasted no time in pulling out his pen and unraveling our border security and immigration enforcement posture by:
- Halting construction of the border wall system;
- Implementing selective enforcement our immigration laws;
- Ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy, allowing the entry of thousands of migrants waiting in Mexico in to the country;
- Reimplementing “catch and release”; and
- Cancelling Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Central American partners.
While the President’s overdue message yesterday to migrants to not make the journey to our southern border is certainly better late than never – words alone cannot undo the impact of these policies.
The statistics simply do not lie about the impact of these policies:
- In February 2021, CBP encounters the highest number of migrants recorded in the month of February in over 7 years – 100,441 – a whopping 173% increase compared to February 2020
- 163% increase in family units from January 2021
- 61% increase in unaccompanied children from January 2021
- CBP officials are projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border per month by May, which would exceed UAC encounters at the height of the 2019 crisis
- Hundreds of border patrol agents are being diverted from interior drug checkpoints and the northern and coastal boarders to respond to this surge.
- DHS has asked for volunteers to help manage the “overwhelming” number of migrants at the border.
We are clearly in the midst of a humanitarian, security, and public health crisis that the Administration refuses to acknowledge and is not being transparent about. This is also a crisis that has to be costing millions of dollars a day. And I expect more specificity from the Department in the weeks ahead on the exact magnitude of this preventable financial burden.
Mr. Secretary, going back to the beginning of my statement – I do not want to simply throw stones. I would sincerely like to work with you on this issue and come to the table with solutions. Today, I would like to propose several measures the Administration can take in short order to get this crisis under control:
- Re-start already appropriated wall funding – there is nothing more bipartisan than keeping our country safe, and strong border security is part of that.
- Re-impose the Remain in Mexico policy
- End catch and release
- Protect Title 42 authorities
- Listen to our frontline workers and continue to invest in more barriers, technology, access roads, and resources for personnel
- Work with our foreign partners to prevent more migrants from reaching our border in the first place
- Prioritize the need to test and vaccinate the frontline CBP and ICE workforce
- Help me finalize legislation to follow a Homeland Security Advisory Council recommendation to create a trust fund for border surges
I sincerely hope that despite the rhetoric, the Administration is taking this crisis seriously and that we can work together to find solutions that are good for the country.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing. I look forward to the testimony of our witness.