Mayorkas says some migrants ‘try to game’ asylum system, as border crisis remains top political issue

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says that some migrants crossing the southern border “try to game” the U.S. asylum system – a hardening of rhetoric as the crisis at the border remains a top political issue going into the November presidential election.

“The reality is that some people do indeed try to game the system,” Mayorkas told CBS News on Thursday. “That does not speak to everyone whom we encounter, but there is an element of it, and we deal with it accordingly.”

The remarks represent a change in rhetoric from the DHS chief, who has typically emphasized the need to speed up claims and has defended the asylum system. Republicans have typically focused more on the ease with which migrants can cross the border and be released even if their claims are bogus. 

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Mayorkas told the outlet that a recent bipartisan border security proposal, which has failed to pick up support in the Senate “would have equipped us with more tools to deal with those individuals who seek to game the system.”

Mayorkas’ remarks come as numbers at the southern border remain high despite a recent drop compared to previous months. There were 179,725 encounters at the southern border in April, compared to 211,992 in April 2023, and 189,357 in March.

There was a record 2.4 million migrant encounters in FY 23, and that record could be broken in FY 24, despite the recent decrease.

While recent numbers are lower than the over 200,000 seen in December, they still remain higher than most months preceding the Biden administration. The administration has said it is dealing with hemispheric factors and a “broken” system.

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Earlier this month, Mayorkas cited violence, insecurity, poverty, corruption, authoritarian regimes and “extreme weather events” among the reasons for migration across the globe. However, he also said there were additional explanations for why the U.S. was a top destination.

“In our hemisphere, we overcame COVID more rapidly than any other country. We had, in a post-COVID world, 11 million jobs to fill, we are a country of choice as a destination, and one takes those two forces and then one considers the fact that we have an immigration system that is broken fundamentally and we have a level of encounters that we do,” he asserted.

The administration has demanded reform from Congress, including the bipartisan Senate bill. It has also pointed to 720,000 removals or returns of illegal immigrants since May 2023, more than in every full fiscal year since 2011.  

But Republicans have blamed the policies of the administration, including the rollback of Trump-era policies such as wall construction, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and increased interior enforcement. They have passed their own legislation in the House that would significantly limit asylum claims, restart border wall construction and similar measures. It has so far not been taken up by the Senate.

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Lawmakers also impeached Mayorkas over his handling of the border crisis, but the impeachment articles were dismissed in the Senate. Republicans often accuse the administration of encouraging the crisis with its policies.

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It is a claim Mayorkas denied in his interview with CBS.

“The reasons why people leave their countries of origin are those with which we are quite familiar: extraordinary poverty, violence, extreme weather events, corruption, suppression by authoritarian regimes. Those reasons and more,” Mayorkas said.

Meanwhile, immigration looks likely to be a top political issue in the coming presidential election. A recent Fox News Poll found that border security was the biggest single issue among self-described very conservative voters (28%), Republicans (25%), White men without a college degree (20%), voters ages 65+ (17%), and rural voters (17%).  

A Fox News Poll in March found that seven in 10 voters say the White House has “mostly failed” at improving border security.

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