Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday said that the U.S. must invest in tackling “root causes” of the migration crisis and construct “legal pathways” for asylum-seekers as part of the solution to the border crisis — as new numbers show migrant encounters remaining high.
Mayorkas was asked at a Senate hearing by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, about how the crisis at the border could be resolved and how practices could be changed to stop incentivizing migration.
Mayorkas laid out a three-pronged solution to the crisis — which the administration has mostly preferred to refer to as a “challenge.”
“It is investing in the countries of origins, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador in tackling the root causes that caused the irregular migration, that caused loving parents to actually send their children alone and sometimes in the hands of smugglers to traverse Mexico to reach our southern border,” he said.
He spoke a day after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced it had encountered 178,622 migrants in April trying to enter the U.S., a 3% increase over the 172,000 encountered in March, which had been the highest number in 20 years.
Images of packed facilities and children being dropped at the border and abandoned have increased pressure on the administration to take action, with critics blaming the rapid rollback of Trump-era border protections and welcoming rhetoric by the Biden administration for encouraging the surge.
A number of Biden administration officials have emphasized the root cause explanation of the crisis –pointing to violence, climate and poverty in Central America.
Mayorkas also said the second part of the solution is to construct more pathways to asylum, meaning that migrants don’t need to make the trip north.
“Second it’s to construct lawful pathways so that individuals such as those loving parents dont feel they have to rely on those irregular and dangerous pathways, but a safe and orderly process when they qualify under United States law for them to travel here safely,” he said.
He then made reference to ongoing efforts to pass sweeping immigration reform in Congress, including a stalled effort backed by the White House that would include a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.
“And third is immigration reform, there is unanimity that our current immigration system is broken, we have bills pending before Congress and it is time for that reform to be enacted,” Mayorkas said.
The agency said that the number of unaccompanied children from Northern Triangle countries dropped by 12%, with 13,962 in April compared with 15,918 in March.
Mayorkas and the White House have touted that they have emptied out border facilities that were once packed with migrants like the facility in Donna, Texas. However, many of those migrants have just been moved to Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities, whose numbers have ballooned in recent weeks.
Mayorkas said he recently visited the Donna facility and called the change “extraordinary.”