President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for homeland security secretary said Tuesday that the Biden administration has a “commitment to follow our asylum laws,” when asked about a caravan of thousands of migrants moving north to the U.S. border.
“I think President-elect Biden and people who will be joining his incoming administration have spoken about the fact that there is a commitment to follow our asylum laws, to enforce our asylum laws, and that means to provide humanitarian relief to those individuals who qualify for it under the law,” Alejandro Mayorkas said at his confirmation hearing.
“That cannot be accomplished with just a flick of a switch and turned on day one, it will take time to build the infrastructure and capacity so we can enforce our laws as Congress intended,” he said.
Mayorkas was asked about a caravan of migrants coming north from Honduras that reportedly consisted or approximately 6,000 migrants at one point. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the caravan was broken up by authorities in Guatemala, but that small groups were still pressing north toward Mexico.
Trump administration officials have accused Biden of encouraging such migration with its more liberal language on migration and asylum. Biden is proposing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the country, but in a nod to fears of a border surge, it would reportedly only apply to those in the country at the beginning of the year.
The caravan had demanded the Biden administration “honors its commitments” in a statement last week, but Biden officials have warned that the situation at the border won’t change right away — with policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) expected to take a while to reverse.
Mayorkas downplayed the threat from the caravan, saying “this is not the first caravan that has approached the border over the last four years or 12 years.”
“The phenomenon of a caravan is something we’ve confronted in DHS for many years, the former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director said.
Grilled later by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on the caravan and what his plans were for how to handle it, he said: “We are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws and I intend to apply the law in the execution in my responsibilities as the secretary of Homeland Security if i have that privilege.”
Asked to be more specific about whether people will be let in or not, Mayorkas said that when people present themselves at the border “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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.