In an appearance in the White House briefing room on Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described the massive effort his department is undertaking to rebuild a system that was “gutted” by a Trump administration that opposed the very idea of immigration. “The prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety,” Mayorkas said.
Confirmed by the Senate at the beginning of February, Mayorkas faces the daunting task of figuring out how to deliver on President Biden’s immigration campaign promises, many of which involve undoing the Trump administration’s most severe tactics. As progress on that front, Mayorkas announced on Monday the appointment of immigrant-rights advocate Michelle Brané to lead a task force contacting the parents of around 500 migrant children who were separated at the border as a deterrent under Trump.
Mayorkas’s appearance came the day after Trump’s speech at CPAC, in which the former president condemned Biden’s approach to immigration and border security, claiming that “he wants it all to go to hell.” (Trump’s claim is a frequent one in conservative circles over the past six weeks, as chyrons involving “migrant caravans” return to Fox News.) And though border crossings are up considerably this winter, the new DHS secretary denied that the current situation constitutes a crisis. “We are challenged at the border,” Mayorkas said. “The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are meeting that challenge.”
While President Biden faces criticism from the right — claiming that efforts to curb deportations, halt wall construction, and increase numbers of immigrant visas are too lenient — the administration must also answer challenges from its left flank, as advocates call for a more immediate rollback of Trump’s immigration measures. On Monday, Mayorkas announced there is no timeline yet for lifting a Trump administration policy known as Title 42, which cites the pandemic as pretext for sending adult migrants back to Mexico within hours of their arrival. Describing the maintenance of Title 42 as “in the service of public health,” he added that Trump-instituted bans on some temporary worker visas, including the H1-B, also would not be lifted immediately.