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WASHINGTON — Utah Sen. Mike Lee called for Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to fix the situation at the U.S. border with Mexico or resign during a line of blistering questioning in a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.
The Republican senator also said Mayorkas is "crushing" the morale of U.S. Border Patrol agents because he has not defended officers on horseback who he said were wrongly accused of "whipping" Haitian migrants in Texas.
Lee criticized the Biden administration for considering paying immigrant families that were separated during the Trump administration $450,000 per person in compensation, as the Wall Street Journal reported in October. He also castigated Mayorkas for failing to maintain operational control of the southern border and allowing nearly 2 million migrants to enter the country illegally this year, "with no end in sight."
"I see no concrete plan for ending these border surges. Instead, your department is focused on climate change," Lee said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
The Department of Homeland Security can't keep fentanyl out of communities, or keep terrorists, gang members and criminals out of neighborhoods as long as Mayorkas is in charge of the agency, the senator said.
"This cannot continue," Lee said. "I implore you. You gotta fix this. Fix it or step down."
Lee also peppered Mayorkas with questions about media reports of horse-mounted agents "whipping" Haitian asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas. Video of the agents wielding their reins to control their horses went viral on social media.
The White House condemned the action as "horrific," halted agents' use of horses in Del Rio and launched an investigation.
"What about border patrol agents recently being accused by some folks in the media of whipping illegal immigrants when in fact they were not. Why on earth did you not defend them? Has no one in your entire department ever become aware of how one uses split reins when riding a horse?" Lee asked.
Mayorkas said he stands with the men and women in the department "through and through," but said the independent investigation would determine the facts and those facts will drive the outcome.
"OK, your response and your failure to defend them then and now is nothing short of morale-crushing," Lee said. "If you want to maintain or obtain operational control of the border, which you do not now have, this is not a way to get there."
Lee asked Mayorkas if the U.S. has the capacity to take in every person who wants to come into the country "ill-intentioned or not." Letting in 2 million people illegally coupled with the administration backing legislation that turns on more of a magnet urging people to enter illegally seems consistent with the mindset that it's an unmitigated good, the senator said.
Mayorkas said there's a misperception that individuals encountered at the border who are not immediately expelled or not subject to an expedited removal process are let into the U.S. and left alone.
"That is absolutely false," he said.
"Well, hang on a minute. Some of them are," Lee said, before talking about a 24-year-old Honduran man who posed as 17-year-old and later allegedly stabbed to death the father of a Florida family who took him. "There are people like him crossing, and with the assistance, with the approval, with facilitation, in some cases, of your department, these things are happening."
Mayorkas said that is inaccurate. He said the man is being prosecuted and there is an immigration enforcement detainer on him.
"Did your department or did it not allow him?" Lee asked angrily.
Mayorkas said he didn't want to comment on the details.
"I bet you wouldn't like to comment on the details," Lee interjected.
There is a pending criminal case against that person, Mayorkas said. Whether or not he committed fraud or deceived border agents, he said, is a question that might be relevant to the ongoing prosecution and inappropriate to comment on.
"What is inappropriate is for your administration to continue leaving these borders open while pushing to turn on the pull factors," Lee said. "That's wrong and it's immoral and it's harming the security of the American people."