Mayorkas faces lawmakers amid unaccompanied-migrant crisis at the border



His appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee comes as the Biden administration struggles to accommodate the growing number of children crossing the US-Mexico border alone against the backdrop of a pandemic that’s strained resources, particularly shelter space.

“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” Mayorkas said in a statement Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children had been in Border Patrol custody for more than 10 days, CNN has learned. More than 4,200 minors were in custody, with an average time of 120 hours.
Mayorkas, who is testifying on Capitol Hill for the first time since his confirmation, said the situation at the border was “difficult” and acknowledged that children are not being transferred to US Department of Health and Human Services custody within the three-day legal limit.

“The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour timeframe for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met,” Mayorkas said.

HHS has not had the capacity to take the number of unaccompanied children encountered at the border, he added. Federal law requires unaccompanied children to be turned over within 72 hours to HHS, which oversees a shelter network designed to house minors.

In February, more than 9,400 unaccompanied children — ranging in ages — crossed the US-Mexico border, according to the latest available data from Customs and Border Protection. That’s up from January and is expected to continue trending upward.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden discouraged would-be migrants from coming to the United States, telling ABC, “I can say quite clearly: Don’t come.”

The President continued: “We’re in the process of getting set up. Don’t leave your town or city or community.”

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House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, billed Wednesday’s hearing as a focus on the “future” of the Department of Homeland Security in the “wake of the Trump administration’s four years of mismanagement and misuse of the Department.”

Last month, Thompson invited Mayorkas to testify on Covid-19 vaccine distribution, the recent SolarWinds breach, immigration and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The committee also called on Mayorkas to provide information on ensuring that DHS front-line employees have access to the vaccines.
The SolarWinds breach, along with the Microsoft Exchange hack, are likely to come up during the hearing as the department’s cyber agency grapples with how best to improve its security efforts with the resources it has.

Rep. John Katko, a New Yorker who’s the top Republican on the committee, plans to discuss the “humanitarian crisis he saw at the border this week,” as well as Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency resourcing and the growing cyber threats posed by China, a committee spokesperson said.

Congress included $650 million in the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passed last week for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s cybersecurity risk-management programs, which will provide funding ahead of the next budget cycle. CISA recently launched pilot programs to improve visibility into federal civilian networks.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has yet to nominate a director for the agency, which is led by a senior career official, Brandon Wales, in an acting capacity.

In a letter to Biden last week, Katko said he was “very concerned” about the delay in nominating a Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director.

“CISA finds itself at the forefront of not just one, but potentially two significant cyber incidents facing federal networks, and the private sector. Now more than ever we need permanent political leadership at the helm of our nation’s lead federal civilian cybersecurity agency,” he wrote.

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