Padilla Questions Secretary Mayorkas on Afghan Refugees, Deported Veterans, and Border Patrol Actions During DHS Oversight Hearing

WATCH: Padilla Questions Secretary Mayorkas during DHS Oversight Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, questioned Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a Senate Judiciary Committee DHS oversight hearing.

During the hearing, Senator Padilla addressed several topics with Secretary Mayorkas including the Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as the Remain in Mexico Policy), the waiving of Humanitarian Parole fees for Afghan refugees, deported veterans and improving naturalization for noncitizen service members, and the need to bring greater transparency and accountability to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In September, Padilla led 25 of his Senate colleagues in calling on President Biden to continue the safe relocation of Afghan refugees, parolees, evacuees, and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants currently residing in third countries to the United States. He previously called on DHS Secretary Mayorkas and USCIS Director Jaddou to implement a blanket waiver on fees for Afghans applying for humanitarian parole to come to the United States.

WATCH: Video of Padilla’s 1st Round of Questioning

Key Excerpts:

  • PADILLA: Earlier this month, I was happy to see that the Department will exempt filing fees and streamline application processing for Afghan evacuees who received humanitarian parole and are already in the United States. While I welcome this news and hope it helps our Afghan allies in their resettlement process— so they can build a life here in the United States— we must not forget about those who are still outside the United States. I encourage the Department to also waive the fees for those Afghans who are applying for humanitarian parole from outside the US and to work with the State Department to facilitate their travel outside of Afghanistan, so that their applications can be processed.
  • PADILLA: I want to ask about some disturbing reports around the conduct and actions of Customs and Border Protection agents. A letter sent by the Southern Border Communities Coalition raises significant concerns about critical incident teams within the agency that are interfering with law enforcement investigation of CBP agents. According to the letter, these teams have been operating for decades and investigating their own agents without authority and maybe obstructing justice by shielding agents from accountability. […] Border Patrol abuses were displayed all over national media more recently with the concerning treatment of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. I know how much you, Mr. Secretary, value integrity. And I hope you share my concerns that there are serious questions that need to be answered to protect the integrity of the agency. 

Secretary Mayorkas, what measures has the Department of Homeland Security taken towards addressing serious abuses of power surrounding these critical incident teams?

MAYORKAS: […] I am immensely proud to work alongside the men and women of US Customs and Border Protection, and that includes US Border Patrol. They do heroic work, putting their lives at risk to keep the American people safe each and every day. And the misconduct of one, does not define the heroism and integrity of the great majority of the men and women. You know, this Friday, we are going to be conducting a public engagement because we do not tolerate misconduct in any part of our workforce, whether that’s US Customs and Border Protection, or any corner of the Department of Homeland Security.

In a second round of questioning, Padilla asked the Secretary about how his department is addressing the unjust deportation of veterans. Earlier this month, Padilla introduced the Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act to implement comprehensive reforms across agencies to help prevent the deportation of noncitizen veterans, improve the pathway to citizenship for eligible military service members and their families, and grant deported veterans an opportunity to return home to the United States.

WATCH: Video of Padilla’s 2nd Round of Questioning

Key Excerpts:

  • PADILLA: Can you share any updates on the work of the initiative and what progress has been made to bring our deported veterans home and if there’s specific plans that the Department has to improve the naturalization rates of non-citizen military service members, while they’re serving?
  • MAYORKAS: Senator, thank you so much for your dedication to this issue. We indeed have a concerted effort to bring back veterans who were unjustly deported. And we have a concerted effort to ensure that veterans are aware of the immigration benefits to which they might be entitled and could avail themselves of those benefits.

We have indeed, I believe, brought back five veterans under this program. We have published education materials to the veteran community and the broader public to advise the veteran community of the immigration benefits to which they might be entitled. And this effort is under the leadership of Deborah Rogers, who has dedicated her career to this effort, and I would welcome the opportunity to keep your office informed of our progress.

PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I certainly look forward to working with you to improve the naturalization rates of individuals who enlist with that aspiration, in some cases expectation, and restoring the process that facilitates, not obstructs, their ability to become citizens.

A full transcript of Senator Padilla’s questions is available below:

First Round of Questioning

PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a number of questions. Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.

But first, I wanted to start with a couple of acknowledgments beginning with— I was glad to see that you issued a new memo to terminate the migration protection protocols, also known as MPP, in late October about a month ago. This policy, as we know, has caused a great deal of hardship to individuals who must wait in Mexico for their asylum cases, asylum cases to be processed. In your memo, you mentioned that a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the root causes of migration. And that MPP is not an effective deterrence policy. I think the data, statistics, that you began to share with this committee is evidence of that.

While I understand that MPP cannot be terminated until the Texas court injunction is vacated, I’ve heard from many stakeholders along the border that there’s no way to humanize MPP. I can imagine that these stakeholders have also been invaluable partners in ensuring that migrants are treated with dignity, and it will take a collective effort to reverse the long-lasting effects of MPP. So I implore you once again to rescind MPP as soon as possible.

On a second topic. Earlier this month, I was happy to see that the Department will exempt filing fees and streamline application processing for Afghan evacuees who received humanitarian parole and are already in the United States. While I welcome this news and hope it helps our Afghan allies in their resettlement process— so they can build a life here in the United States— we must not forget about those who are still outside the United States. I encourage the Department to also waive the fees for those Afghans who are applying for humanitarian parole from outside the US and to work with the State Department to facilitate their travel outside of Afghanistan, so that their applications can be processed.

I consider to hear from Californians about how helpful a fee waiver would be. I also sent a letter, along with 26 of my colleagues, including many on this committee, making this exact request— which I would like to enter into the record. I urge the Department to continue offering support to our Afghan allies inside and outside the US.

Now to my questions, the first, which is a follow up to something we’ve heard a lot from my Republican colleagues today, that’s about the increasing number of migrant encounters. Now, if I understand correctly, this is the third consecutive month of border encounters actually decreasing. So would you like to comment on this or shed some light or clarity on the more recent statistics and trends?

MAYORKAS: Thank you, Senator Padilla. We have indeed, instituted certain practices not just along the border, but also with our partners south of the border, that have in fact, borne fruit in terms of a reduced number of encounters of migrants along the southern border. Whether it is enforcement measures, whether it is safe and orderly, alternative pathways where people would not need to take the perilous journey and can apply for relief from where they are. There are a number of measures and I would be pleased to spend time with you. Sharing with you all of the measures we have taken.

PADILLA: Okay, I appreciate that and would certainly welcome that.

Now as this is an oversight hearing, I want to ask about some disturbing reports around the conduct and actions of Customs and Border Protection agents. A letter sent by the Southern Border Communities Coalition raises significant concerns about critical incident teams within the agency that are interfering with law enforcement investigation of CBP agents. According to the letter, these teams have been operating for decades and investigating their own agents without authority and maybe obstructing justice by shielding agents from accountability. One case in particular, that is especially concerning to me, involves Anastacio Hernando Rojas— who was a longtime resident of San Diego and a father of five. In 2010 Anastacio was hogtied, brutally beaten, and repeatedly tased by border agents until he stopped breathing.

The police record reveals that after the incident, border patrol agents destroyed, altered, and withheld evidence from the San Diego Police Department. This incident did not happen in a vacuum. Border Patrol abuses were displayed all over national media more recently with the concerning treatment of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. I know how much you Mr. Secretary value integrity. And I hope you share my concerns that there are serious questions that need to be answered to protect the integrity of the agency. 

Secretary Mayorkas, what measures has the Department of Homeland Security taken towards addressing serious abuses of power surrounding these critical incident teams?

MAYORKAS: So there are a few things if I may.

First of all, Senator, I am immensely proud to work alongside the men and women of US Customs and Border Protection, and that includes US Border Patrol. They do heroic work, putting their lives at risk to keep the American people safe each and every day. And the misconduct of one, does not define the heroism and integrity of the great majority of the men and women. You know, this Friday, we are going to be conducting a public engagement because we do not tolerate misconduct in any part of our workforce, whether that’s US Customs and Border Protection, or any corner of the Department of Homeland Security. We’re going to have a public engagement this coming Friday to discuss transparency and accountability in Customs and Border Protection that is hosted by and propelled by the leadership of that agency. We take great pride in our workforce and we will root out misconduct wherever it occurs.

PADILLA: Okay, I look forward to continue to work with you on this.

Second Round of Questioning

PADILLA: Thank you Mr. Chair. Mr. Mayorkas, we have a couple of additional questions. I know in the first round of questioning, actually had a couple of areas that we were complimenting your leadership and the Department on it, I want to share with the committee.

Another positive announcement that you made, back in July. I was pleased to hear at the time that you and Secretary McDonough were starting a new initiative to bring back non-citizen military service members and veterans and their families who had been removed from the United States. This past June, I held a meeting of my subcommittee on this issue, and just this week, introduced the Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act.

This bill would put processes in place to reduce the removal of veterans who bravely fought for our country, and yet missed the opportunity to become United States citizens while serving in the military. So I want to thank you for your partnership on that and for working with me, on another specific case, Mr. Howard Bailey, a Navy veteran who is now back home in the United States with his family after nearly a decade. He had been deported for an old charge that had since been pardoned. 

But I am curious to know what steps the Department has taken since the announcement made back in July. Can you share any updates on the work of the initiative and what progress has been made to bring our deported veterans home and if there’s specific plans that the Department has to improve the naturalization rates of non-citizen military service members, while they’re serving?

MAYORKAS: Senator, thank you so much for your dedication to this issue. We indeed have a concerted effort to bring back veterans who were unjustly deported. And we have a concerted effort to ensure that veterans are aware of the immigration benefits to which they might be entitled and could avail themselves of those benefits.

We have, indeed, I believe, brought back five veterans under this program. We have published education materials to the veteran community and the broader public to advise the veteran community of the immigration benefits to which they might be entitled. And this effort is under the leadership of Deborah Rogers, who has dedicated her career to this effort, and I would welcome the opportunity to keep your office informed of our progress.

PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I certainly look forward to working with you to improve the naturalization rates of individuals who enlist with that aspiration, in some cases expectation, and restoring the process that facilitates, not obstructs, their ability to become citizens. Thank you Mr. Chair.

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