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WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney called the Biden administration's immigration policy a "monumental disaster," and said that alone would be enough to leave the federal government "hanging on by a thread," even if there were not so many other disasters.
The Utah Republican also condemned a Democratic proposal to send monthly checks to undocumented parents for each of their children, which he says would encourage more people to enter the country illegally.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faced sharp questioning from Romney and other GOP senators during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday.
The meeting comes amid heavy criticism of the Department of Homeland Security after news cameras captured images of Border Patrol agents on horseback attempting to grab Haitian migrants and push them back toward Mexico on Sunday along the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas.
Mayorkas told CNN he was "horrified" by what he saw and promised a swift investigation. "I am going to let the investigation run its course, but the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly," he said.
This isn't a political issue. Even TX Democrats are pleading for @POTUS to control the border.— Rep. Chris Stewart (@RepChrisStewart) September 21, 2021
It's a crisis for some 15,000 Haitians who are trapped in awful conditions. It's a crisis for our border agents. It's a crisis for all of America.
The Biden-Harris Admin needs to act.
In the Senate hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., grilled Mayorkas about a makeshift camp that has appeared in Del Rio, where nearly 15,000 people have amassed after crossing the border, according to the Washington Post.
"Every time you come before this committee, you always say it's going to get better," Hawley said of illegal border crossings that have occurred under the Biden administration. "And then every time you leave, it gets worse and worse. This is a humanitarian crisis in Del Rio. You can spin it whichever way that you want, but ... we should not minimize the humanitarian conditions for which, frankly, you're responsible. ... tens of thousands of people living in conditions that are startling, startling, brought here because of your policies."
Romney didn't mention the incident in the hearing, but lambasted President Joe Biden's approach to the surge of migrants at the southern border.
"I think any unbiased person would say that the Biden administration's border and immigration policies have been nothing short of a monumental disaster," Romney said. "And were there not so many other disasters that the administration is encountering, it probably would be, by itself, enough for a government to be hanging on by a thread."
Romney acknowledged he and Mayorkas have disagreed about the reasons people try to enter the U.S. illegally.
Mayorkas has said the government must address the root cause for illegal immigration such as poverty and corruption in other countries. Romney said the U.S. can't solve all the problems in the world, let alone its own.
"But what we can address are the unnecessary pull factors, if you will, the unnecessary features that we have in place that draw people into coming into our country illegally," the senator said.
Romney said Biden's "so-called human infrastructure" bill would provide $300 a month for every child who obtains an IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN. Because undocumented immigrants are not eligible to obtain a Social Security number, they may apply for an ITIN to comply with U.S. tax laws.
In response to a question from Romney, Mayorkas said he was unaware that the children of undocumented immigrants can get an ITIN.
I think any unbiased person would say that the Biden administration's border and immigration policies have been nothing short of a monumental disaster.
–Utah Sen. Mitt Romney
"So under the bill that is being proposed and considered by Congress, we'll be paying the illegal immigrant $300 per month for each and every one of their children that obtain such a number," Romney said.
A family of four would receive as much as $1,200 per month in checks from the U.S. government, Romney said, adding that is "well above" the average wage throughout major parts of Latin America.
Romney said the provision would create an "unfortunate and damaging pull factor" that would draw more and more people into the country illegally.
Mayorkas said the proposal speaks to the fact that there are 11 million undocumented people already in the country, and the number is growing because of a broken immigration system.
"I don't think it speaks to individuals who have not arrived in the United States," the secretary said.
"Clearly, if you can get paid $300 per child even though the child is here illegally and you're here legally, that's going to encourage people to come here," he said. "It's also going to represent a major expense for our government to pay the children of those that are here illegally at $300 per month."