Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday defended the country's border policies, insisting the Biden administration was taking a strong enough stance on a surge of migration while batting away claims it was being overly strict.
Mayorkas took issue with criticism from progressives who compared President Joe Biden's policies to those of former President Donald Trump, who required migrants to apply for asylum in countries they passed through before applying for it the U.S.
The secretary said that over the past two days, the Border Patrol has seen an approximately 50% drop in the number of people encountered at the southern border compared to numbers earlier this week before Title 42 ended at midnight on Thursday.
"This is not an asylum ban. We have a humanitarian obligation as well as a matter of security to cut the ruthless smugglers out. That is a responsibility of government and we are doing that, and Jon, it is not a ban at all," Mayorkas told "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.
He went on, "What our rule provides is that an individual must access those lawful pathways that we have made available to them. If they have not, then they must have sought relief in one of the countries through which they have traveled and been denied. And if they haven't done either, it's not a ban on asylum, but they have a higher threshold of proof that they have to meet. That is a presumption of ineligibility that can be overcome."
Mayorkas also fended off barbs over the White House's plan to release some migrants without mandated court dates due to overcrowding in facilities housing those who cross the border despite a judge's recent ruling scrapping the policy.
"We have an obligation to comply with that ruling," he said. "We respectfully disagree with the judge. We think it's a very harmful ruling. When ... our border patrol stations become overcrowded, it is a matter of the safety and security of people, including our own personnel, not just the vulnerable migrants, to be able to release them. And this is something that administration after administration has done."
The secretary's comments come as Biden faces a barrage of criticism and an avalanche of media coverage over the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allowed border officials to deport migrants illegally crossing the border.
The ending of the rule, which coincided with the ending of the national emergency around COVID-19, is expected to produce surges of attempted border crossings.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill remain divided over how to address unauthorized border crossings, extending a decades long standstill over immigration policy changes in Washington.
House Republicans did pass legislation seeking to limit asylum and extend the Trump-era border wall but the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
The administration has sought to thread the needle in blunting an expected border surge, making it harder for migrants to apply for asylum while pushing back on any comparisons to the previous administration's more draconian policies.
Mayorkas also defended Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked earlier in the Biden presidency to handle immigration.
"That effort is a yearslong effort. And Vice President Harris has led the investment of more than $3 billion in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador," he said.
"That effort began in the Obama-Biden administration. It was terribly taken down during the Trump administration and Vice President Harris has led an extraordinary effort to address the root causes of why people flee their homes in the first instance: violence, poverty, corruption, authoritarian regimes, extreme weather events, persecution and the like."