Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona: Biden administration plan for end of asylum limit is not sufficient
PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona last week in a hearing with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas criticized the Biden administration’s plan to handle an expected increase of migrants at the southern border as a potential end to a public health ban on asylum seekers nears.
The hearing on Thursday came a day after a federal judge ordered a two-week halt on preparations to fully lift the restriction, known as Title 42, on May 23.
Arizona was among 21 states that sued to preserve the restriction, which was enacted in March 2020 on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. A hearing is set for May 13 to hear arguments on whether to block Title 42 from ending as planned.
“This Administration did not create the problem, but managing it effectively is your responsibility,” Stanton, a Democrat, told Mayorkas during the House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.
“What was outlined in the memo you released on Tuesday—just in time for these hearings—is not at all sufficient to handle what will come our way once Title 42 restrictions are lifted.”
The memo included an outline to increase personnel in the border region from Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies, as well as expand detention capacity with the use of temporary facilities and deploy a process to deport migrants who do not qualify for asylum or other relief under U.S. law.
Mayorkas in the memo warned that migration levels will increase when the restriction on asylum seekers is lifted, pointing to smugglers seeking to take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants.
Stanton said he recently spoke with an Arizona mayor who was told by the Department of Homeland Security to expect to process 1,000 migrants per day this summer, an increase to the 300 per day who are already being processed through a local nonprofit.
“They’ve been telling your Department that they’re not ready,” Stanton told Mayorkas. “Putting more pressure on a system that can’t handle it carries a significant risk of creating a full-scale humanitarian crisis on American soil for which the White House and your Department will be solely responsible.
“No person who cares about migrants should want that. It’s clear to me that the federal government is not prepared. Not even close.”
Stanton said modest staffing will not solve the problem at the Southwest border, where migrants were stopped more than 221,000 times in March, a 22-year-high.
“No thinking person believes that modest staffing improvements will put the federal government in position to handle triple the number of crossings,” Stanton said. “Not a chance.”
Mayorkas in response to Stanton said part of the plan is bolstering the capacity of nonprofits and coordinating with local and state officials, as well as working with southern countries to address their border management opportunities and responsibilities.
“We will be prepared and our plan is comprehensive and I look forward to sharing with you some of the details of that plan to address some of the concerns you’ve expressed because we’re aware of those concerns,” Mayorkas told Stanton. “We’ve been planning against those concerns for months.”
Another concern Stanton put forth was the situation at Sky Harbor Airport where leaders told him up to 600 migrants are being dropped off each day, many of whom arrive high-risk with health concerns and few resources. Stanton said airport staff in addition to setting up phone banks and providing translation services have donated clothing and food to migrants.
He asked the Department of Homeland Security to ensure all migrants arriving at transportation hubs like Sky Harbor Airport are better prepared to travel.
Arizona leaders from each side of the aisle have criticized the Biden administration’s plan for the end of Title 42, including both of the state’s Democratic senators and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.