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Border chief says it's 'too early' to know if migrant surge has peaked

White House Press Briefing
Posted at 7:05 PM, May 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-14 19:05:02-04

(CNN) — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday that it is "too early" to know whether the surge in migrants at the US southern border has peaked since the expiration of Title 42 last week.

"The numbers we have experienced over the past few days are markedly down over what they were prior to the end of Title 42," he told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."

Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic public health policy that allowed authorities to swiftly turn back migrants at the US-Mexico border, expired on Thursday.

On Sunday, Mayorkas said that US border authorities have "experienced a 50% drop in the number of encounters," compared with earlier in the week, when encounters along the US southern border were at around 10,000 migrants a day.

He told CNN that authorities reported about 6,300 border encounters Friday and 4,200 on Saturday.

Mayorkas credited the low numbers in the past two days to the Biden administration's clear message to migrants that circumventing the lawful pathways for asylum come with grave consequences.

"We have communicated very clearly, a vitally important message to the individuals who are thinking of arriving at our southern border," he said. "There is a lawful, safe and orderly way to arrive in the United States that is through the pathways that President Biden has expanded in an unprecedented way. And then there's a consequence if one does not use those lawful pathways. And that consequence is removal from the United States, a deportation and encountering a five-year ban on reentry and possible criminal prosecution."

Later Sunday, Biden said that apprehensions over the border "have gone down."

"I hope they're going to continue to go down," he said in brief remarks to reporters as he completed a bike ride in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. "We need some more help from the Congress, as well, in terms of funding and legislative changes."

Asked whether he planned to visit the border, the president said, "Not in the near term, no. It would just be disruptive."

Mayorkas, in his interview with Bash, pushed back on criticism from both sides of the aisle that the Biden administration has been ill prepared for the end of Title 42.

"I would respectfully disagree," he said, defending the administration's evolving asylum system, which faces questions from liberals over its fairness to would-be migrants.

CNN previously reported that with the lifting of Title 42, the administration would largely bar migrants who traveled through other countries on their way to the US-Mexico border from applying for asylum in the United States, marking a departure from decadeslong protocol.

The rule, proposed earlier this year, presumes that migrants are ineligible for asylum in the US if they didn't first seek refuge in a country they transited through, like Mexico, on the way to the border. Migrants who secure an appointment through the CBP One app would be exempt, according to officials.

Mayorkas framed the tightening of asylum rules as a way to "cut out" smugglers who profit off human tragedy, saying that it's "not only a security imperative, but a humanitarian responsibility."

"We have an obligation to deliver consequences at our border, to not only manage our border, but to cut the smugglers out," he said.

Mayorkas also said he has not spoken to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about what compromise Republicans and the administration could reach on immigration, after the GOP-controlled House narrowly passed a stringent border security bill last week.

That bill, which the Democratic-led Senate is unlikely to take up, would increase funding for border agents, place new restrictions on asylum seekers and enhance requirements for E-verify, among other provisions.

After the measure passed, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused House Republicans of "playing politics" while calling on Congress to approve Biden's proposal "to fix our broken immigration system that this administration inherited."

In a separate appearance Sunday on "State of the Union," House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green said the GOP legislation "was not intended to fix immigration" but to "secure our border."

"We need to secure our border, and then we can deal with the immigration piece. You can't create more incentive to come here without a secure border," the Tennessee Republican said.

As some Republicans push for Mayorkas to be ousted from his role, Green said his committee does not have the authority to impeach the secretary but told CNN that he plans to "look very closely at the failures of this administration and Secretary Mayorkas" and is building a "five-phase accountability plan."

"I would be negligent in my job not to look into this guy's performance and show the American people how he's failed," he said.

Asked about such criticism earlier Sunday, Mayorkas maintained that he was "focused on the work in front of us."

This story has been updated with additional information.