During Senate Hearing, Rosen Speaks to DHS Secretary Mayorkas About Protecting Unaccompanied Children, Keeping Families Together at U.S. Southern Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas about Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody conditions for children, NGO access to CBP facilities where migrant children are housed, resources to address the trauma experienced by unaccompanied children, the future of Title 42 and its impact on family separations, and a fair process for cases brought under the Migration Protection Protocol (MPP). A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.

ROSEN: Thank you, Chairman Peters and Ranking Member Portman, for holding this important hearing. Secretary Mayorkas, I really want to take this moment to thank you, commend you for your compassion, and for your leadership navigating this critical moment personally, professionally for the families that are going through this.

Before I ask my question, I will allow you to use some of my time if you have anything additional you’d like to say. You can take that, and then I can go into my questions. Otherwise, I can go straight in. Mr. Secretary. 

MAYORKAS: Thank you very much for that courtesy Senator, I look forward to your questions.

ROSEN: Okay, thank you. I really want to talk about building on what Senator Hassan talked about, child welfare and child welfare professionals, children in CBP custody. There’s poor conditions, and the treatment hasn’t been good. I worked with the last Administration, trying to develop a plan to bring welfare professionals to all CBP facilities. Unfortunately, the previous Administration ignored my request[s]. 

So to follow up on some of the recommendations proposed by child welfare advocates; are CBP facilities currently staffed with medical professionals with pediatric experience and child welfare professional to provide those other wrap around services that these children experiencing trauma or other issues as Senator Hassan brought up, do you have those folks in our facilities?

MAYORKAS: Senator, we do have individuals with those capabilities and expertise at Border Patrol stations.

Of course, in March, when we experienced such a great surge, we did not have the ratio that was optimal. Our focus has been on moving the children out of the border patrol station as rapidly as possible to ensure they are in the shelter and care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that does indeed have a greater level of that expertise as appropriately should be the case.

ROSEN: Thank you, I want to build on that when we were working with the prior Administration, they weren’t really listening to what we were trying to ask them to do. 

Do NGOs (non-governmental organizations) currently have access to CBP facilities to assist and augment any care or programming that these children might need? The prior Administration was not allowing that.

MAYORKAS: Senator, there is some access, and that is one thing we are taking a close look at. Of course, when we were experiencing the greatest challenge, there were operational capacity issues with respect to providing that access. We believe that access will strengthen the efficiency of the system in all regards, and it is one of the areas that we are focused on as we are improving and strengthening the process from beginning to end.  

ROSEN: Thank you, I am going to move on. I know Senator Johnson talked about title 42. So, I am pleased that the Biden Administration took immediate actions to reverse several of the previous Administration’s cruel and misguided policies. 

I do remain concerned by the continuation of the Title 42 policy the Trump Administration used to expel migrants across the board, including children and families desperately attempting to come here for our asylum process.

Are you concerned that Title 42 could be a new source of family separation? It is just so painful, making migrant parents make that painful decision to separate from their children in order to find safety in the United States, and how is DHS mitigating the risk of family separation while Title 42 is still in place?

MAYORKAS: Senator, we are certainly hearing, anecdotally, that some families self-separate to allow their children to enter the United States unaccompanied. That speaks to the trauma that these families have endured and their desperation to give their children a better life. 

Our exercise of Title 42 is the exercise of a Public Health authority. To protect the American public with respect to COVID-19, as well as the migrants themselves, it is an exercise of authority that rests with the CDC. The issue that your question addresses is something we are keenly focused upon. 

ROSEN: Thank you, I know the prior Administration as well. When they were separating families, we are still concerned that the record-keeping was not, I guess I will say, adequate. That’s how we will put that lightly and diplomatically. 

So, I want to be sure that if families are self-separating or if there is separating going on that we know where children go, where their parents go, because I never want to hear a story that some child could never find their parents again or don’t know who they are.

Can you let us know that you are doing that and how you are doing that? That is keenly important to us.

MAYORKAS: Senator, I look forward to following up with you. I appreciate it.

ROSEN: Thank you, just follow up one last thing on Title 42. We know that because of COVID, that lies not within your department. Do you anticipate with vaccines becoming more available that Title 42 might be rescinded soon? Do you have anything you would like to bring up about that?

MAYORKAS: Senator, I don’t have a timetable as I sit here today. I know that the Center for Diseases Control looks at the public health landscape in determining whether its authorities need to continue to be exercised. Its responsibility is to look at that public health imperative and make that decision, and that falls within its jurisdiction.

ROSEN: I know in my last 30 seconds I will take these responses off the record. But we know that some migrants were removed by a “tent courts” process. They really weren’t given a fair process. Are you considering allowing those individuals to represent their cases? And some of those cases that were the MPP Program that remain in Mexico that were closed. Are you considering opening these “tent courts” and MPP cases?

I will take those off the record to allow the next Senator to speak.