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Homeland Securkty Hearing From Two Planets
Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert
Washington, DC
Friday, March 19, 2021


Homeland Security Hearing From Two Planets

By Margaret Orchowski

Listening to the highly partisan members of the Congressional Homeland Security committee grill the newly approved (January) HLS Secretary Alejandra Mayorkas at a hearing March 17 on "The Way Forward", was like another world experience. That's partly because the members were not there physically – it being a virtual hearing. But also because the Democratic and Republican members' questions, positions, arguments and responses seemed to be from two completely different planets – even on what one might think were fairly uncontroversial questions:


For instance, Republicans repeatedly asked how many of the tens of thousands of migrants who surged across the U.S. Southern border in the past two months were tested for the corona virus? Almost all were put on public transportation to be taken to holding or transfer stations, and thousands of minors under the age of 18 were detained for at least three days before being released into the country. How many tested positive? Were communities that were sent hundreds of teenage detainees told how many were positive?


Again and again Mayorkas answered he didn't have those figures with him.  But he repeatedly said the DHLS  "supported the policy of testing 100 percent of everyone who entered the country". The question remained however: how many had they tested?  "We're doing the best we can," the Secretary finally sighed after three hours.  "We have a four point plan'.


"Your answers are nauseating," replied Republican Clay Higgins (LA) who refused to use his five minutes time to listen to the four point plan. "Put it in writing. It's just talking points.You aren't answering our questions."


Later a Democrat asked him to describe the 4 point testing plan. That might have been a mistake. It was not applauded. First the ideal: test at the pick up site. Mayorkas admitted that that was almost impossible to do for lack of time, environment, trained personnel and supplies; 2) do it at a holding facility (again difficult for the same reasons); 3) do at a community detention center with volunteers; the organization would eventually be reimbursed. Or 4) look for a private vender to test, have ICE handle the quarantine.


But why are they even being detained at all?" several Republicans demanded "Don't you agree that crossing the border without authorization is illegal? That it is breaking the law? The law demands immediate removal."


"Yes, I agree", said the Secretary, the national head of immigration law enforcement. "But, if detainees request asylum we have to let them make their case… and if they are unaccompanied children, they stay in the States until they do – which can be years." 


"Trump made them wait in Mexico", some Republicans recalled. "On his first day, Biden rescinded that protocol and agreement with Mexico.


 Various Democrats called that protocol draconian, cruel, inhumane and un-American. 

And on it went.  The spin made everyone confused. Even Henry Cuellar a Blue Dog Democrat from Texas who has long been involved with immigration issues, referred to the thousands of migrants crossing without authorization and planning to seek asylum as "refugees" – a very different category.  (Refugees have to prove they are fleeing mortal danger in a long, official process. But once admitted, they get permanent status while asylees are given temporary status).


Both sides seemed to agree on only one thing. The historic numbers. "We are on track for receiving the largest number of unaccompanied children in 20 years," Mayorkas said. He didn't mention that over 75% were 16-17 year old males.


The big question however was if that surge is to be welcomed or deterred?  Mayorkas didn't remember telling migrants "to come, but not just now".  He didn't agree with Republicans that when Biden said it, that was sending the wrong message.  Mayorkas  repeatedly refused to label the situation a "crisis" as all Republicans insisted it was. 


And while most agreed the situation had become an humanitarian crisis. Republicans blamed President Biden's welcoming message for it while Democrats blamed President Trump's inflamed rhetoric and even the border patrol's union.  Like being on two different planets.

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“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been”. Vice President of the Brookings Institution Darrell West wrote in recommending Peggy Sands Orchowski’s books   "The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965" and  "Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively).  Peggy is a credentialed Senior Congressional journalist in Washington DC. She is available for interviews, article assignments and speaking engagements about immigration   porchowski@hotmail.com

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