EL PASO, Texas -- For the second time in less than a month, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited El Paso on Thursday to see firsthand the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border with a surge in the arrivals of unaccompanied children that has filled migrant facilities in the Borderland and elsewhere.
His visit came as newly released data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed nearly 19,000 kids were picked up traveling alone across the border in March, which was the largest monthly number ever tallied.
At a news conference following a meeting with Mayorkas, El Paso leaders including Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar told ABC-7 it was the first step in a conversation - but more needs to be done.
"This is an unsustainable situation,” Escobar said. “There's no doubt about it. It's unsustainable for the migrants, it's unsustainable for the (Homeland Security) agency.”
Migrant advocate Ruben Garcia, the head of the Annunciation House, said he told Mayorkas that the unwinding of the Migrant Protection Protocols has been working really well - and it serves as an example they should utilize to help other areas of the immigration process that are struggling.
Currently migrants are able to be expelled under Title 42, which means any person who might pose a health risk such as Covid-19 can be returned to their home country.
"We're (the U.S.) really opposed to letting these families come in,” Garcia said. “Giving them the potential idea that they're going to be able to pursue those claims for asylum within the U.S., only to be put on a plane, brought to El Paso and then expelled."
Garcia said he never agreed with Title 42 being implemented by the former Trump Administration, but told ABC-7 it will eventually come to an end.
"Now is the time to plan,” Garcia said. “Now is the time to organize to be very strategic so we do it in an orderly way."
CBP said in March it encountered more than 172,000 persons attempting to cross into the U.S. along the southwest border. The agency expelled 103,900 individuals under Title 42 with 28% of those individuals already being previously expelled.
Escobar said more needs to be done to open up legal immigration options.
"We see an increase in undocumented immigration in a large part because of our own actions and some of those actions include making it so difficult that asylum is the only avenue for legal entry,” Escobar said. “We shouldn't be surprised when people running for their lives who have no other alternative make the choices that they do."
You can watch the entire news conference in the video player at the bottom of this article.
Participating in that news conference were:
- Congresswoman Veronica Escobar
- Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security
- Oscar Leeser, El Paso City Mayor
- Ricardo Samaniego, El Paso County Judge
- Chief Mario D'Agostino, El Paso Fire Chief and Managing Director for Public Safety
- Ruben Garcia, Executive Director of Annunciation House
- Linda Rivas, Co-founder of the Borderland Immigration Council
Mayorkas was last in El Paso on March 19 to tour the border and examine the migrant surge impact. Following that trip, he urged migrants "not to come" - reiterating that the border was not open and that most migrants would be turned away.