Republican senators grilled Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, zeroing in on whether President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security would enforce the law as he implements Biden's pro-amnesty agenda.
Mayorkas, who had served in the Obama administration as the deputy DHS secretary and the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has previously come under fire from Republicans for intervening on behalf of Democrats to provide visas for politically connected foreign nationals.
If confirmed, he would be the first immigrant and first Latino to lead DHS. Mayorkas arrived in the United States with his family as refugees fled Fidel Castro's communist tyranny in Cuba in the 1960s.
Addressing concerns from an inspector general's report that found Mayorkas communicated with prominent Democrats to grant visas to individuals whose cases "would have been decided differently" without his intervention and that his handling of these cases "created an appearance of favoritism and special access," Mayorkas told Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). It was his job to resolve disputes that came before the agency.
"I fixed problems through the cases that the agency handled," Mayorkas said. "I do, I must say, senator, take issue with the use of the term intervene. It is my job to become involved, to learn the problems that an agency confronts and to fix them."
Speaking to calls from the progressive left to defund or abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Protection agencies, Mayorkas told senators he opposed those efforts.
"I would not abolish them," Mayorkas said.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) focused his questions on whether Mayorkas would follow the law as he implements Biden's campaign promises on immigration.
Hawley asked whether Mayorkas would spend the $1.4 billion Congress has already appropriated for a border wall given that Biden has declared his intention to cease funding and construction for the wall.
"President-elect Biden has committed to cease funding for further construction of the border wall, I would execute President-elect Biden's commitment in adherence to the laws that guide us," Mayorkas answered.
"I will follow the law, and what I would need to do is to understand what the law provides with respect to the obligation of funds to construct the border wall and see what the opportunities are to discontinue any such obligation if in fact the law permits, and act accordingly," he added.
Turning to immigration reform more broadly, Hawley inquired about Biden's plan to grant up to 11 million illegal immigrants with amnesty and a path to citizenship.
"Do you support mass amnesty on that scale?" he asked.
"President-elect Biden has committed to presenting Congress on day one with an immigration reform bill that once and for all fixes what I think we can all agree is a broken immigration system. And he has spoken of the need for a path to citizenship for the individuals who have been in this country for many years, who have contributed to our communities and to this nation's economic prosperity," Mayorkas replied. "I would be privileged to work with Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that provides that path and provides a permanent solution to what is clearly a broken system."
Hawley followed up with a question about whether Mayorkas was at all concerned that offering amnesty with the promise of a pathway to citizenship and voting in U.S. elections would "pull" more migrants to travel to the United States illegally. In his answer, Mayorkas redirected to address the "push" factors that cause migrants to flee their home countries in Central America.
"Sen. Hawley, I remember the bipartisan piece of legislation that the United States Senate proposed a number of years ago with a path to citizenship for individuals who had contributed to our nation's well-being for many years and the fact that it spoke of certain requirements to ensure that individuals who had been here and contributed to the United States could gain that path and those who had not yet arrived would not," he began his answer.
"With respect to the pull and push factor ... let me speak to the push factor, because I don't think it's severity could be overstated. And I say this because President-elect Biden has articulated an ambitious and visionary plan for addressing the root causes of irregular migration," he continued.
"When loving parents are willing to send their young child alone to traverse Mexico to reach the dangerous southern border between the United States and Mexico because of the acute violence and severe poverty and the fear of persecution, I think we need to address the push factor as the gravest challenge to irregular migration. And therefore the investment in countries where so many people are fleeing, the investments in building a refugee program in the Western hemisphere and the region so that humanitarian relief is provided and our border is not the first place at which those needs are confronted, I think, is a vital and underlying solution to the problem we confront."
On this point, President-elect Biden has proposed a $4 billion foreign aid package for Central America, "with aid linked to governments in the region delivering measurable reductions in gang and gender-based violence, improvements in legal and educational systems, and implementation of anti-corruption measures, among other things." It appears that assistance to foreign governments will be a significant part of the Biden immigration agenda.
Also, Mayorkas told Hawley that he would act to end President Donald Trump's migrant protection protocol policies, which direct foreign individuals seeking admission to the U.S. without proper documentation to wait outside of the U.S. until their immigration proceedings are completed.
Sen. Hawley questions Alejandro Mayorkas at his Department of Homeland Security nomination hearing www.youtube.com
During the hearing, Mayorkas was asked by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) what his plans were for the approaching migrant caravan from Central America heading to the U.S. border. Estimates suggest the caravan comprises as many as 6,000 persons traveling to the United States.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Guatemalan authorities broke the caravan up but small groups are still moving toward Mexico on their journey north.
In a statement made last week, the caravan demanded that the Biden administration "honor its commitments" to provide asylum and amnesty to the migrants headed to the border.
"We are a nation of immigrants. And we are also a nation of laws," Mayorkas told Romney. "I intend to apply the law in the execution in my responsibilities as the secretary of Homeland Security if i have that privilege."
Pressed for specifics on whether the individuals in the caravans would be admitted to the United States, Mayorkas clarified, "We apply the laws of our nation to determine whether they qualify for relief under our humanitarian laws or whether they don't.
"If people qualify under the law, then we will apply the law accordingly. If they do not qualify then they won't," he said.