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DHS chief Mayorkas talks immigration with Latino Senate Democrats

Senators express concerns about expulsion policy and forthcoming proposal to limit asylum eligibility for certain migrants

Sen. Bob Menendez, left,  described the meeting with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as a “positive, constructive conversation about a wide range of issues in the immigration space that we feel that the administration should be considering.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, left, described the meeting with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as a “positive, constructive conversation about a wide range of issues in the immigration space that we feel that the administration should be considering.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas discussed immigration policy Tuesday afternoon with the Senate’s four Latino Democrats, as the administration prepares to lift pandemic-related border restrictions later this year. 

The group, which met in the Senate Foreign Relations committee room for nearly an hour, included Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Sen. Alex Padilla of California, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico. 

Menendez described the meeting as a “positive, constructive conversation about a wide range of issues in the immigration space that we feel that the administration should be considering.”

Menendez said the four senators expressed concerns about the pandemic border expulsion policy, known as Title 42, as well as a forthcoming policy proposal, announced last month, that would limit asylum eligibility for migrants who passed through another country en route to the U.S.-Mexico border. Menendez said he anticipates the rule “in a couple of weeks.”

“We hope that he’ll take that back, what we had to say and share, to the administration,” Menendez said in a brief interview, adding: “He was in a listening mode.”

Padilla said the meeting was “productive” and that “immigration was the focus,” including the impending end to Title 42 and the “modernization of the asylum system.” 

“It was constructive. He clearly knows what he’s doing. It’s just, probably, one of the most difficult tasks in the federal government,” Padilla said as he exited. 

Tuesday’s meeting marked the first time Mayorkas met in-person with the four Congressional Hispanic Caucus senators this calendar year. Mayorkas met virtually last month with members of the Hispanic Caucus, where caucus leaders said they criticized the secretary for failing to consult them sufficiently ahead of the announcement of a separate major migration initiative that opened limited legal pathways for certain migrants while also heightening enforcement mechanisms at the border.

As for how the Tuesday meeting came about, Menendez said the DHS chief “asked for it.”

The discussion came less than three months before the planned end to the controversial Title 42 border policy, which has allowed border agents to rapidly expel migrants without considering their asylum claims since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The administration has announced it does not intend to renew the COVID-19 public health emergency orders and instead will let them expire May 11. The administration has said it believes the expiration of these orders will also lead to the termination of the border expulsion directive. 

The Biden administration has faced mounting pressure on Capitol Hill over its policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has seen record-high levels of migration. The debate over the border has thrust Mayorkas, in particular, into the spotlight — and squarely into Republicans’ crosshairs. 

House Republicans, now in the majority, have announced plans to launch impeachment proceedings against the Homeland Security chief. The agency has hired outside counsel to handle any such proceedings, signaling the department takes the threat seriously. 

Congressional Republicans, and even some Democrats from border states, also have cautioned the administration against rescinding the Title 42 policy, citing fears of drawing more migrants to the border. 

Meanwhile, other congressional Democrats have chastised the administration for keeping the border restrictions in place as long as it has, pointing to significant harms to asylum-seekers requesting protection. 

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