WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., challenged Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a Senate committee hearing over a security funding request, criticizing the Biden administration's actions addressing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday to discuss the sweeping emergency spending package. A majority of the package concerns aid for Israel, Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific, but the White House also requested $13.6 billion in the package for border security efforts.
The funding would support actions to hire an additional 1,300 border patrol agents, 375 immigration judge teams and 1,600 asylum officers. Money would additionally go toward installing detection technology at ports of entry.
Boozman and his Republican colleagues criticized Mayorkas and the Biden administration over its policies related to the southern border. Senators cited rising encounter numbers since Democratic President Joe Biden took office in January 2021; U.S. Customs and Border Protection data reflects around 6.3 million encounters at the southern border during the Biden presidency, including 269,735 encounters in September.
Boozman additionally cited the number of pending asylum cases; according to the Justice Department, more than 851,000 asylum applications are pending review.
"By every metric, the border is a disaster," the senator from Rogers said.
One issue among Boozman and his colleagues involved metrics for migrants in the United States illegally.
North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, who sits next to Boozman on the committee dais, pressed Mayorkas about how many migrants currently live in the United States. The secretary promised Hoeven he would provide related data on expulsions and removals.
"But you came to the hearing today and you don't have those numbers?" Hoeven asked Mayorkas.
"If we're going to have security in this package, don't we need some metrics so we can show the American people that, in fact, we are reducing the encounters?"
Boozman echoed Hoeven's concerns.
"We need some metrics," Boozman said. "I think what you're proposing, at best, just keeps it as it is now. There's not going to be a reduction."
Mayorkas called Boozman's view "absolutely false."
"I would be very pleased to confer with you and Sen. Hoeven to discuss the quantification of advancement that we would accomplish with additional funding," the secretary responded. "I think it is rather axiomatic, quite frankly, that additional Border Patrol agents will advance the security mission at the southern border."
Boozman said if Congress supported the Biden administration's appropriations request as submitted, he is not confident the funding would have an impact on the encounter and asylum numbers.
"I don't know if what you're proposing just simply keeps us where we're at, and it's sad that you don't appear to know, either," the senator told Mayorkas. "If I was bringing forward a proposal, I would know what it actually did."
A group of Senate Republicans, including Tom Cotton of Little Rock, unveiled a list of policy ideas Monday regarding security at the southern border. The proposal calls for resuming construction of a border wall, stricter asylum eligibility standards and limitations on granting humanitarian parole.
Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., shot down the recommendations during Wednesday's hearing, urging colleagues to prioritize policies that could get "widespread, bipartisan support."
"We need to focus on serious proposals," she said.
Senate appropriators held their hearing with limited time for handling another pressing issue: a possible government shutdown. Legislators could insert the supplemental funding in a stopgap funding measure keeping the government open beyond Nov. 17.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $14.5 billion aid package for Israel last week. The bill includes billions of dollars cut from the IRS. Senate Democrats have stated the House resolution has no chance of passage in Congress' upper chamber.