The following is a transcript of an interview with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that aired on “Face the Nation” on May 7, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joins us now. Nice to have you here in person, sir.
HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY ALEJANDRO MALLORCAS: Good morning, Margaret.
Margaret Brennan: Before we get to migration, I want to ask, do you have any information about this latest mass shooting in Texas, which may have been with an AR-15 style weapon?
SECY. MALLORCAS: Margaret, another terrible tragedy in our country. I spoke last night with the governor as well as the mayor. The matter is still under investigation. So of course, I can’t comment any further.
Margaret Brennan: No information about the shooter?
SECY. Mayorkas: No, Margaret, I think—it’s under investigation. State and local authorities are leading that investigation.
Margaret Brennan: Let’s go to the border. You say this is the greatest increase in immigration in the Western Hemisphere since World War II. And you have been preparing for more than a year and a half. How rough will the next few weeks be?
SECY. MALLORCAS: You know, Margaret, we’ve been preparing for this for over a year and a half, you’re right. And it’s really a regional challenge. And that requires a regional response, which is why we are working so closely with many countries in the South. With the Los Angeles announcement that we have achieved the Summit of the Americas as our foundational approach. I think we’re going to see big numbers first. It will take some time for our plan to really take hold to understand that they can access legal, safe, orderly routes before they reach the border. And very clearly, if they come across the border, they will have a consequence under our enforcement authority.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you as an administration are setting up processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala so that immigrants can begin the asylum process before they get to the border. But they are not set up yet. When will they be effective?
SECY. Mallorca: So, we are the furthest with Colombia. It should be a matter of weeks. But we also have additional legitimate paths that already exist for people to access—
Margaret Brennan: Phone Apps.
SECY. Mallorca: Yes, parole programs for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. We are expanding our family reunification program. Our responsibility is not only as a matter of security, but as a matter of humanitarian relief, to dismantle the smuggling organizations, to reach out to the people so that they do not have to give their lives at the hands of ruthless smugglers. such as tragedy and trauma.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you announced 1500 troops going to El Paso, Texas. Why not in other parts of the border? What is the most porous area in Texas?
SECY. Mayorkas: Well, they will be spread out according to operational needs. Something very important–very important to note, since 2006, every year since 2006, we have relied on the Department of Defense to supplement our personnel and our resources at the border. We were never properly resourced. And so active duty troopers are deployed not to do enforcement work, not to contact immigrants, but to provide other support so that our Border Patrol agents can be in the field to work—
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you’re—you’re talking about office work. Will any active-duty military contact immigrants during the period?
SECY. Mayorkas: Right. They do not have to do enforcement work. That is not what they are deployed for.
Margaret Brennan: I want to ask you about Arizona. You know, we were right there. Arizona’s governor and senior senator told us the federal government is unprepared. Senator Sinema said Homeland Security is not sharing information with him or local law enforcement about the number of immigrants, processing times and buses available to transport them. The governor also said he has more urgent needs and could not get specifics on dollars for emergency shelters. Why are such specific details not being shared?
SECY. Mayorkas: Well, I respectfully disagree with the senator and the governor. Number one, we’re ready. As we mentioned at the very beginning of our conversation, we have been preparing for this for quite some time. We’ve repeatedly tried to end Title 42 and been blocked from doing so by the courts, so we’re ready for number one. Number two, we have a migration information center specifically set up to communicate with state and local officials. And we have been doing so. We are using our FEMA Regional Coordinators as our main point of contact. I have spoken with Senator Sinema, I think in the last two weeks, and our staff is in regular contact with other officials.
MARGARET BRENNAN: She said she contacted the White House as well as Homeland Security but the information was not sufficient. So do you think there is a communication problem here?
SECY. Mayorkas: I don’t. And if there are any unanswered questions we will answer them. I will tell you though, let’s take a step back because there is a very important message to communicate, not only to Senator Sinema, but to all senators and all members of the House of Representatives. We need immigration reform. Everything the Department of Homeland Security is doing, everything our partners across the federal government are doing, is all about a broken immigration system. The President passed in Congress, a proposal to fix our broken immigration system on his first day in office—
Margaret Brennan: But it’s like a to-do list. It’s different than putting it behind your shoulder, picking up the phone and saying, excuse me, the Democrats control the Senate, let’s come up with immigration.
SECY. MALLORCAS: Margaret, we’ve been pushing for immigration legislation since day one. And anyway, it didn’t start on day one. This is a decades-old problem-
Margaret Brennan: It is.
SECY. Mallorca: The immigration system hasn’t been fixed since the -90s.
Margaret Brennan: Absolutely. And with the situation we’re in now, it’s seemingly gotten worse. But at that point, it becomes so politicized and you take a lot of political heat yourself because you run the agency on the security side of it. But if the politics are so bad, and the security situation is so difficult, and you need more resources, why isn’t the president talking more about the need for a border bill? Why is leader Schumer not doing it? That seems to be conceding to the Republicans.
SECY. Mayorkas: I- I’m Margaret, I respectfully disagree. I’ve spoken with Leader Schumer, over the last two weeks, we’ve been in constant communication—
Margaret Brennan: Is there a timeline for that?
SECY. MALLORCAS: -We’re- we’re constantly- there’s not a day that goes by that we’re not calling on Congress to pass reform. I’ve been in hearings this past month, and I’ve talked about it over and over, my colleagues in the administration have talked about it, people in the community who are experts on this, they’ve talked about it over and over. You know, I engage with other countries to really address a regional challenge. I spoke with my counterparts in Canada, Spain. Their systems are designed to match their labor demand with the potential supply of workers who want to work and build a better life. We are stuck with an old system that doesn’t match the two. It’s just so incredibly sad.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So does the administration support Senators Sinema and Tillis’ bipartisan bill that would allow deportation of immigrants for two years, like Title 42?
Mallorca: Title 42 and Expulsion Authority is a public health authority.
Margaret Brennan: Right.
Mallorca: It is not an immigration authority. We will use our immigration authority, which calls for a consequence regime, which is why we need to correct the lies that smugglers tell vulnerable migrants. They think they are coming and they can stay and that is unequivocally false.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because if you enter illegally now after May 12, you can be detained for five years from trying to cross again.
Mayorkas: Right. If you are not eligible for relief, you will be removed quickly. And you have to face a bar of at least five years for admission. And what I want to say to Senator, Senator Tillis and Cinema is that our system is fixed, this is not a band aid solution.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the senator called it a band aid, but also a stepping stone. Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration ignored his proposal. He objected to the deployment of troops and criticized the lack of planning. So if you have people who are border-state senators who want to do something, and then you have the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying he wants to do something, why is the administration ignoring it or pushing it, pushing it aside?
Mayorkas: The administration doesn’t care.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Menendez said that.
Mayorkas: We are, we are moving forward. And anyway, Senator Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, presented a really thoughtful document with many pillars of action. And we have actually implemented a number of them. Building our legal, safe and orderly thoroughfares is something that was echoed in Senator Menendez’s remarks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Democrat Henry Cuellar says he has confidence in you and homeland security. But he said, the White House is holding you back.
Mayorkas: False. A team. A mission, and we are ready to execute it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Before I just want to ask you about the substance of who’s going through right now. You said that the surge of the last few weeks is largely Venezuelans or a large number and that this is a unique challenge because the United States cannot expel them in the same way. Mexico is receiving only 30,000 a month. So why is the number so large now? And what happens to the Venezuelans when they get here?
MALLORCAS: So, Margaret, a couple of things. One, the parole programs we announced and implemented on January 5, not only for Venezuelans, but also for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans, have reduced the number of parolees facing that population by more than 95%. Very, very fast. The fire in Juarez, Mexico has really affected Mexican politics. And what we’ve seen is smugglers exploiting that, spreading false information to migrants, and we’ve seen an influx of Venezuelans. The, the president’s homeland security adviser was in Mexico this past Tuesday to meet with the president of Mexico and Mexico has agreed to take back the Venezuelans and others, even after Title 42 expires on Thursday, May 11. It will take some time, we are. Going to see big numbers. Initially, it will take some time for our plan to take hold for immigrants to understand the consequences we are going to provide when they arrive irregularly at our borders, instead of taking advantage of the legal pathways we make available to them. But those consequences must be suffered. The legitimate path will provide security for them. And we’ll see those numbers come down in time and hopefully sooner rather than later.
Margaret Brennan: 10,000 a day?
Mayorkas: What we do is we plan for different scenarios. And we are doing just that. I was in Brownsville. I was in McAllen, Texas, Thursday and Friday to see our plans put into action. It is extraordinarily impressive what our heroic workers can do.
Margaret Brennan: Mr. Secretary, we’ll see. Good luck to you.
Mayorkas: Thank you very much, Margaret.