Transcript: CBS News interviews Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas

The following is a transcript of an April 22 interview with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who told CBS News his department is set to implement a major policy change along the US-Mexico border in May. Transcript lightly edited for clarity.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ, CBS NEWS: I jump in right away. Secretary, you were recently in Panama to discuss migration and the administration’s regional approach to this issue. What exactly are you, Secretary, asking Panama and other countries in our hemisphere to do differently to help the United States manage these, frankly, unprecedented levels of displacement and migration?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I think it’s very important to recognize that the challenge of migration, an increased level of migration, is not unique to the United States. This is something that the countries of our region are experiencing. And I think that’s very powerfully demonstrated, for example, in the number of Venezuelans currently residing in Colombia; the number of Nicaraguans currently residing in Costa Rica. And therefore, addressing a regional challenge requires a regional response. And what we’re asking, and it’s not just the United States asking other countries, but all countries asking each other. And that’s one of the things that was pretty obvious. This is not a request from the United States to other countries. These are countries that ask each other. A collaborative and harmonized approach to increase migration across the region.

And we discussed the different elements of that answer. We talked about the responsibility to manage borders across the region in a humanitarian, law-abiding manner, meaning those who are eligible for aid in a particular country receive that aid and those who are not are repatriated. For those receiving assistance, develop stabilization efforts so that they have the ability to work and integrate into communities. Repatriation efforts must be carried out in a way that allows people to return safely to their country of origin. We have talked about developing safe and legal routes so that people, for example, seeking relief, do not have to go through the very treacherous region of Darién, which I saw with my own eyes during my visit to Panama. And we talked about collaborating on repatriation efforts. And then, of course, fundamentally, and that’s why the broad participation was so critical, we have the development banks, the international development banks, there. That we must also adopt a durable solution. And it deals with the reason, the underlying reasons, why people leave their homes, their country of origin, only to go to other countries with which they are not familiar. And so we’ve covered quite a wide range of topics that are involved in the complexities of regional migration.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: You just mentioned that in your opinion, migrants who are not eligible for assistance under US law should be removed in a humane manner. This is not always the case, as you know, particularly because of the impossibility of returning people to certain countries such as Cuba and Nicaragua. Does this regional strategy also involve, Mr. Secretary, asking and convincing these countries to accept the return of their citizens if they are not eligible for asylum here in the United States

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes. I think it is, Camilo, difficult. For example, it is quite difficult to deal with a country like Venezuela, where diplomatic relations, if any, can be strained. And so we have to be practical here in dealing with the realities.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: But you are trying to establish some kind of dialogue with these countries like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to see if they can take back some of their nationals who, again, are not eligible for (l help under) our laws. And I ask this question because, as you know, Mr. Secretary, Cuba last month became the second largest source of migration to the border.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yeah, so Camilo, that’s why the regional migration talks were so important in Panama, because it’s not something we can do alone. And if we don’t have the relationship with another country that will allow this constructive dialogue, then maybe other countries can be part of the solution. And that is why a regional approach is so vital, and as I know you are well aware, we had discussions with Cuba yesterday to begin a dialogue on migration agreements, a process that has indeed historically provided an avenue orderly and safe for a number of Cubans to seek relief in the United States.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: And also their commitment to accept the return of their citizens as well, right? It was another part.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: One element of the discussion.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: I would be remiss, Secretary, if I did not ask you about the planned termination of Title 42. I understand that this is a CDC decision. But there is a growing number of lawmakers and, frankly, ordinary Americans, who don’t think your department, Secretary, is ready to implement this change. Can you assure them that they will not see dangerous overcrowding at border facilities, that asylum seekers will be dealt with effectively, and that you will be able to manage these already very high levels of migration once this policy ends on the 23rd may ?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Camilo, the claim that we have no plans is a claim that is not based on facts. We have been planning for months to deal with the increase in migration; the ones we’ve already been through and the ones we may experience when Title 42 comes to an end. transportation, medical resources, development of additional facilities to support border operations. These plans have been in the works for months. And so, we do have plans and I can assure the American people and their representatives that we do.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: And you are confident, Mr. Secretary, that you will be able to implement this change on May 23.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We are confident that we can implement our plans when necessary. And we’re also very aware of the fact, Camilo, that we’re planning for different scenarios. And some of these scenarios present significant challenges for us. There is a fundamental point, Camilo, that is so important to communicate every time we talk about these challenges, and that is that we are operating within the confines of a system that is entirely broken, and has been waiting for a legislative solution for a long time.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: In that vein, Mr. Secretary, will you look to Congress to ask either for legal authorities to be changed or for more funding to help you meet these challenges?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We are currently working within the funding provided to us, Camilo, but yes, I will continue to push for law reform to be implemented. There is unanimity in saying that it is necessary. And President Biden offered on his first day in office a legislative package to fix what everyone agrees is a broken system in its entirety.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: Secretary, if you are someone right now in Haiti, in Colombia, in Nicaragua, in other countries in our hemisphere, and you are planning to migrate to the US border after May 23, after the lifting of title 42, because there is the belief that they will be able to stay here. Is this belief accurate, inaccurate?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: That belief is incorrect. And Camilo, we have seen individuals undertake the perilous journey, we have seen them take this journey by sea, and we have seen the fatal or disastrous consequences. I visited the Darien, an extraordinarily treacherous terrain, and learned firsthand the disastrous consequences of this enterprise. We are committed to building safe, orderly and humane pathways. Individuals who do not qualify for assistance in the United States will be removed.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: Okay. Last question, if you allow me. In March, Secretary, your department recorded 221,000 arrests along the southwest border, a 22-year high. Obviously, this number is inflated by a very high recidivism rate among single adults in particular. What kind of numbers are you seeing now in April, Secretary? And again, I want to ask you the question, do you think you’ll be able to handle some of the projections that the agency has made when Title 42 is lifted?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Camilo, I think you identify a very important point that needs to be emphasized, which is that it’s about the number of encounters, not the number of unique individuals encountered at the border. And we will continue to abide by the laws that guide us. And that includes humanitarian assistance laws and deportation laws that mandate deportation when a person is ineligible.

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: How do you reduce that? Sorry to interrupt you, secretary, how do you reduce this recidivism rate which is very high at the moment. And that inflates those numbers significantly?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Is that in the context of, Camilo, you’re asking in the context of title 42?

CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ: Why many adults try to cross multiple times.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So we’re dealing with that under our enforcement regime, Camilo. And individuals who make repeated attempts, who seek to defy the law, are subject to criminal prosecution in appropriate circumstances. And we are working with the Department of Justice to achieve this.

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