James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re good? Okay. No losing pens.
All right. Today, the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, and I want to take just a moment to talk about the important work that has happened under this administration to prepare the nation for the next phase of our response to COVID-19.
To date, the administration has taken significant steps to ensure Americans have continued access to life-saving protections such as vaccines, treatments, and tests, following the expiration of the public health emergency.
Under this President, we launched the largest adult vaccination program in U.S. history, with over 270 million Americans receiving at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine.
And as you all know, our efforts have not been limited to the United States alone. Our government has been the largest single donor of vaccines, having shared nearly 700 million doses with 117 countries around the world.
Since January 20, 2021, COVID-19 deaths have declined by 95 percent. New COVID-19 hospitalizations are down nearly 90 percent. And COVID-19 deaths globally are at their lowest levels.
But I want to be clear: This administration takes the threat of future surges or pandemics very seriously, which is why access to vaccine, tests, and treatments will remain widely available after today. We’re protecting millions of people who are uninsured by providing them with the tools they need to stay protected from COVID-19.
Projects like Next Gen, run out of — run out of HHS, will invest at least $5 billion to accelerate the rapid development of next generation vaccine and treatments.
We’re working to tackle the effects of long COVID and ensure people who are experiencing it have the help that they need.
We’re working to stand up the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response here at the White House. And we’re calling on Congress, through the President’s budget, to invest in our nation’s ability to prepare and respond to future threats.
So the work won’t stop, but — won’t stop today, but the nation is well prepared to manage the risk of COVID-19 going forward.
And the continued availability of vaccinations, tests, and treatments, and programs that provide equitable access to these tools has put the nation and the world in a strong position as the po- — public health emergency for COVID-19 ends and we move into the next phase of our response.
This morning, you all saw, we continued progress on our efforts to bring inflation down. The official measure of inflation for producers of goods and services fell to 2.3 percent. That’s the average rate of producer price inflation in 2018 and 2019, and the lowest level in more than two years. And it follows news we received yesterday showing that consumer inflation declined for 10 month in a row. That includes a second month of falling grocery prices.
So while there is more work to do to level — to lower costs for families, we are making important progress at a time when our job market remains historically strong.
Unemployment is at its lowest level in more than 50 years. The share of working-age Americans in the workforce is the highest in 15 years. And unemployment for African Americans at — is at the lowest that we’ve ever seen.
Our historic recovery and falling inflation is thanks to — in part because of the President’s work and what he’s done over the last two years, including lowering costs for prescription drugs, insulin, energy bills, and gas.
With that, thank you for your time. I’d like to introduce, as we have promised, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, to provide you all with — with the update on the — our robust work underway as Title 42 lifts later today.
Secretary, the podium is yours.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, Karine. And good afternoon.
Tonight at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, the pandemic-era Title 42 public health order will end.
Starting at midnight, people who arrive at our southern border will be subject to our immigration enforcement authorities under Title 8 of the United States Code.
Here is what that means:
If anyone arrives at our southern border after midnight tonight, they will be presumed ineligible for asylum and subject to steeper consequences for unlawful entry, including a minimum five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution.
The transition to Title 8 processing will be swift and immediate. We have surged 24,000 Border Patrol agents and officers; thousands of troops, contractors; and over a thousand asylum officers and judges to see this through.
We are clear-eyed about the challenges we are likely to face in the days and weeks ahead, and we are ready to meet them.
We expected to see large numbers of encounters initially. We are already seeing high numbers of encounters in certain sectors.
This places an incredible strain on our personnel, our facilities, and our communities with whom we partner closely.
We prepared for this moment for almost two years, and our plan will deliver results. It will take time for those results to be fully realized. And it is essential that we all take this into account.
Our current situation is the outcome of Congress leaving a broken, outdated immigration system in place for over two decades, despite unanimous agreement that we desperately need legislative reform. It is also the result of Congress’s decision not to provide us with the resources we need and that we requested.
Our efforts within the constraints of our broken immigration system are focused on ensuring that the process is safe, orderly, and humane, all while protecting our dedicated workforce and our communities.
I want to be very clear: Our borders are not open. People who cross our border unlawfully and without a legal basis to remain will be promptly processed and removed.
An individual who was removed under Title 8 is subject to at least a five-year ban on reentry into the United States and can face criminal prosecution if they attempt to cross again.
Smugglers have been long hard at work, spreading false information that the border will be open. They are lying.
To people who are thinking of making the journey to our southern border, know this: Smugglers care only about profits, not people. Do not risk your life and your life savings only to be removed from the United States if and when you arrive here.
Our approach to build lawful, safe, and orderly pathways for people to come to the United States and to impose tougher consequences on those who choose not to use those pathways works.
President Biden has led the largest expansion of lawful pathways in decades. People from Cuba, Haiti, Venezua- — Venezuela, and Nicaragua have arrived through lawfully available pathways. And we reduced border encounters from these groups by 90 percent between December of last year and March of this year.
We are launching new and expanded family reunification parole processes for nationals of Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras and are increasing use of the CBP One mobile app for individuals to schedule appointments at our ports of entry.
To those who do not use our available lawful pathways, we will deliver tougher consequences using our immigration law authorities.
The new rule finalized yesterday presumes that those who do not use lawful pathways to enter the United States are ineligible for asylum. It allows us, the United States, to remove individuals who do not establish a reasonable fear of persecution.
We announced that eligible families will be placed in expedited removal proceedings, and those that receive a final negative credible fear determination will generally be removed within 30 days of being placed in those proceedings.
We began planning in 2021 for the end of Title 42. Just a few highlights:
In addition to securing the first increase in Border Patrol agent hiring in more than a decade, we are in the process of surging personnel to the border, including over 1,400 DHS personnel, 1,000 processing coordinators, and an additional 1,500 Department of Defense personnel.
We are delivering tougher consequences for unlawful entry. During the first half of this fiscal year, we returned, removed, and expelled more than 665,000 people. We are conducting dozens of removal flights each week, and we continue to increase them. Just yesterday, we worked with the Mexican government to expel nearly 1,000 Venezuelans who did not take advantage of our available lawful pathways to enter the United States.
We are bolstering the capacity of local governments and NGOs. Last week, we announced the distribution of an additional $332 million to support communities along the south — southern border and in the interior of our country.
And we are going after the smugglers, leading an unprecedented law enforcement disruption campaign that has led to the arrest of more than 10,000 smugglers who mislead and profit from vulnerable migrants.
The United States is also working closely with regional partners to impose stiffer consequences at our border, expand lawful pathways for orderly migration, and coordinate enforcement efforts.
This includes Mexico announcing for the first time ever that they will accept the returns under Title 8 authorities of nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela so that we can continue the parole processes that have been so successful in reducing migration from those countries.
It includes working with Colombia and Panama to launch a historic anti-smuggling campaign in the Darién to target criminal networks that prey on migrants.
And it includes dramatically scaling up the number of removal flights we can operate to countries throughout the hemisphere, including Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
We are — we are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. We are doing everything possible to enforce those laws in a safe, orderly, and humane way.
We are working with countries throughout the region, addressing a regional challenge with regional solutions.
We again, yet again, call on Congress to pass desperately needed immigration reform and deliver the resources, clear authorities, and modernize processes that we need.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead.
Q Okay. Sorry, just making sure. Hi, Secretary Mayorkas.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Good afternoon.
Q I have two questions. One is: How do you decide which nationalities are going to be able to use the legal pathways, for example, with the Venezuelans and the Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans? How did you decide who is allowed to avail themselves of legal pathways and who isn’t, on that particular track?
And then I have a —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: For the parole programs —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — that — yes. So what we did is we met the need with the parole programs. That was the demographic that was causing us the greatest challenge at our southern border, and we tailored our parole processes accordingly.
Q So is it possible that those nationalities could shift as you see shifting nationalities at the border?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So we have shifted our programs according to the needs that we need to meet. So you’ll recall perhaps that in November we developed the parole process for Venezuelans. That was then the most significant challenge. We pivoted in January to not only expand the program for Venezuelans but also expand it for Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans. So we will meet the moment.
Q And then, on overcrowding. If the Border Patrol facilities are overcrowded and some migrants have to be released, does that send the very message you’re trying to avoid, which is that people will be released into the interior?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So I have to say two things in response. Number one: We cannot overstate the extraordinary talent and heroism of the United States Border Patrol and the personnel of the Department of Homeland Security that are managing through an extraordinary challenge and doing so successfully. Number one.
Number two: It is very important to understand that the great majority of people will be removed if they do not qualify for relief under the laws of the United States.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Thank you very much, Secretary Mayorkas. You talked about all the personnel that you’re surging to the border. You didn’t mention FEMA personnel. And the mayors and county judges in border towns that we’ve spoken to say that what they really need is not just FEMA dollars but FEMA personnel themselves to house and feed these migrants as your department releases them.
Why not send FEMA personnel to the border the way you would in any other emergency?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, the — the deployment of FEMA personnel is specific to a particular type of emergency, an emergent event. This is an ongoing challenge that, quite frankly, has vexed this country for decades, because this country has been unable — Congress has been unable to pass immigration reform that everyone agrees and understands is desperately needed.
We are working with an immigration system that was last reformed in the 1990s. Migration has changed dramatically since then, and we need our laws updated.
Q So are you saying that basically your hands are tied and you can’t send FEMA personnel even if you wanted to?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No, I’m — I’m not saying that at all. And, as a matter of fact, our FEMA personnel are coordinating with local communities and cities across the country to provide them with the information they need. And FEMA is going to be playing a pivotal role in our Shelter and Services Program that is poised to distribute $363 million to cities and communities in need of funding.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, JJ.
Q I’m wondering about your communications with foreign countries. Have you had conversations in the last couple days or so with any foreign government officials ahead of this lifting?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So I should take a step back and say: When I speak of the fact that it is a regional challenge for which reas- — regional solutions are needed, let me — let me put a finer point on that.
There are approximately 20 million displaced people throughout our hemisphere. The challenge that we are encountering at our southern border is by no means unique to the southern border of the United States. And I have learned that powerfully, not only through the information and analysis that we undertake in the United States government but in our conversations with our foreign partners.
Just this week, I spoke with the foreign secretary of Panama. Last week, I spoke with the President of Guatemala. Three weeks ago, I was in Panama to speak with the Panamanian foreign minister and the Colombian foreign minister.
We are engaged and, of course, Secrede- — Secretary Blinken is leading the diplomatic engagements.
Diplomacy is a key pillar of our effort.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, April. And then I’ll come to you.
Q My question is — I want to — I want to focus in on Black migrants from Africa and the Caribbean nations. Nana Gyamfi, who has met with President Biden on this issue, and other civil rights leaders said that the lifting of Title 42 suppresses Black asylum seekers who are required to ask for asylum in countries they transit through. Many of those countries are too dangerous for Black migrants to request asylum. And she gives the example of the African Americans who traveled to Mexico. Some were killed. They were thought to be Haitian migrants.
What do you say to that? And what is an eff- — is there an effort? And what will you do to safety net or safeguard some of these Black migrants who are trying to come now for asylum who are in countries or transiting through countries where they cannot ask for asylum through — under the laws that the Biden administration has put in place?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So let me — let me share with you one way in which migration has changed dramatically over the years. It is no longer the case that individuals can on their own reach the southern border of the United States. They have to place their lives and their life savings in the hands of ruthless smugglers that exploit them, and ruthlessly do so. And we have not only a security obligation but a humanitarian obligation to cut those smugglers out. And that is indeed what we are doing.
And this President, President Biden, has rebuilt our refugee processing capabilities and has committed to a large number of refugee admissions to the United States.
Our President, President Biden, has expanded lawful pathways for migrants like no other president past.
And what we are doing is we are extending an out- — outstretched arm of humanitarian relief to reach people where they are so they do not have to place their lives in the hands of those smuggling organizations.
Q But the southern border — but the so- — the southern border is not just Mexicans, it is Haitians, it’s Africans, as we — as we’ve seen, particularly with that issue with the Haitians being whipped with the reins on the horses. What is there —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, let me just correct you right there, because —
Q Please correct me.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Act- — actually, the investigation concluded that the whipping did not occur.
Q I’m sorry, I saw it differently. They were whipped with something from the horse — reins from a horse. I — I — maybe the video or the picture was fixed, but what I saw was totally different. I’m sorry —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yeah, I’m going to leave you as —
Q Yes, I know. But —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — corrected.
Q But what happened — again, the Mexican border is not just Mexicans; it’s Africans and Haitians. What is there in place, as you hear from people who are advocates for immigrants, like Nana Gyamfi, to help those who are trying to seek asylum in place — from places like Haiti that has gangs? They can’t even have an election because things — the atrocities there are just so great.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, a few — a few responses.
Number one, we have set up the CBP One app to enable people to make appointments and arrive at ports of entry safely if they qualify for exceptions under the public health authority of Title 42, which, of course is set to expire at 11:59 p.m.
We have admitted approximately 740 people through that CBP One app per day. The majority of the individuals admitted have been Haitian. We are expanding that CBP One app to reach as many as a thousand people a day.
And we are setting up regional processing centers throughout the region, working very closely with countries to the south, working with Colombia and others. And we expect to set up as many as 100 or more of those processing centers that will be open to people of all nationalities to obtain humanitarian relief.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. The President said this week that the situation on the southern border is going to be chaotic for a while. Given the fact that you’ve had nearly two years to prepare for this moment, how can chaos be the expectation?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, I have said for months and months that the challenge at the border is and is going to be very difficult. And we have spoken repeatedly about the fact that that difficulty may actually only increase at this time of transition.
It is going to take a period of time for our approach to actually gain traction and show results. And I’ve been very clear about that.
The fundamental reason — the fundamental reason why we have a challenge at our border and we’ve had this challenge many a time before is because we are working within the constraints of a broken — a fundamentally broken immigration system. And we also are operating on resources that are far less than those that we need and that we’ve requested.
Q But some of the — some of the measures that you have been talking about to put in place to mitigate this surge, some of those aren’t even in place yet. It was — it wasn’t until two weeks ago that you announced these plans to open these regional processing centers. As far as I’m aware, they’re not open yet. Of the 1,500 troops that the President deployed, only 550 are actually on the ground.
So, given how long you have known that Title 42 is ending on May 11th, why aren’t all these measures already in place?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we have implemented measures well before those few that you identify. Our parole processes would be an example. While we deployed 1,500 additional Department of Defense personnel, we’ve had 2,500 Department of Defense personnel well in place already.
We have surged resources of all types over months and months, not just personnel but transportation facilities, technology, additional bed space. So we have been, in fact, not —
Q You’re confident you’ve done all you can at this point?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We have done all we can with the resources that we have and within the system that we are operating under.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter, go ahead.
Q I’ll ask a couple questions, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for being here.
First, on the CBP One app that you were speaking about right now. Migrants that are speaking to journalists, including our reporters on the ground, have indicated a series of frustrations. They say they’re having trouble logging on. They’re having trouble getting appointments. They’re having trouble with language barriers; perhaps they speak Indigenous languages or others. And they’re seeing technical glitches right now.
So what specifically is being done to fix that right now? And does that app provide false hope to these migrants coming that will only lead to future frustration and surges, like we saw from Venezuelans only a matter of months ago?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we have seen a tremendous acceptance of the CBP One app. We are utilizing it very effectively, as I referenced earlier in response to the reporter’s prior question — that 740 people per day are reaching our port of entry. Those, by the way, are not individuals who’ve only made appointments, but actually a fraction of the people who have made appointments using the CBP One app. It has proven successful.
We have identified glitches, and we’ve done so not unilaterally, exclusively, but also by speaking with individuals who have used the app, by speaking with migrants here in the United States who have reached the United States, as well as actually going into Mexico and meeting with migrants to understand the challenges.
If I may — so, we have addressed the challenges of which we are aware.
The greatest challenge with respect to the CBP One app is not a technological challenge but rather the fact that we have many more migrants than we have the capacity to make appointments for.
The greatest level of frustration is actually being able to make the appointment, not the utility of the CBP One app itself. That is, again, another example of a broken immigration system.
Q If I could follow up on a foreign policy question, though, very broadly — just quickly. The U.S. sanctions — the U.S. has sanctions right now on a series of foreign nations: on Cuba, on Venezuela, on Nicaragua. So, does the Biden administration’s foreign policy make this situation worse?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, I’m going to leave that to our foreign policy specialists. But I will — I will say this: The predicate of those principles are separate and apart from the immigration challenge that we’re confronting.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Terry. And we’re going to try and get around. Terry, go ahead. And then I’ll go to the back.
Q Given the time you say this is going to take and based on what you’re seeing now at the southern border and beyond in Mexico, I wonder if you could offer some details, paint a picture. What should Americans in those border communities and beyond expect in the coming days and weeks? What’s this going to look like for them?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We could see very crowded — as we are now — we could see very crowded Border Patrol facilities. I cannot overstate the strain on our personnel and our facilities.
But we know how to manage through such strain. As difficult as it will be, I have tremendous confidence and pride in our personnel.
Let me share with you an example of how we manage through a very difficult situation.
In El Paso, Texas, we saw individuals on the street. We engaged in a very sensitive and humane law enforcement operation to address that challenge. And we successfully have done so to the praise of the city of El Paso.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Michael?
Q And can I just follow up? Our teams in El Paso say that there are hundreds of migrants now in the open, in shelter with very limited access to food and water and bathrooms for days. Why aren’t they being processed? Is that what we can expect?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we are working very closely with nonprofit organizations, with community groups to really deli- — deliver a community response to the challenge.
I cannot understate — I’m sorry, I cannot overstate how much of a challenge it is going to be and how we all have to deal with it as one administration and one country.
Fundamentally — fundamentally, we need Congress to act.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you for doing this. Is this exclusively a challenge at the land border, or are you also seeing an increase in irregular migration by sea to Florida and to California, for that matter?
And then secondly, on the regional processing centers, I know that your staff has said that you’ll have more announcements on exactly where those will be in the coming days. But just to echo my colleague’s point, you know, did you want those to be ready ahead of the expiration of Title 42? And can you give any details on exactly where those processing centers will be?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, with respect to maritime migration: A number of months ago, we were experiencing pressure in the maritime environment, and we responded to that pressure with increased resources.
It is incredibly perilous for individuals to take to the seas. The search and rescue operations that the United States Coast Guard has to undertake all too often to rescue people — those seas are rough, and the vessels that they use are extraordinarily flimsy, and we see death on the high seas.
And so, we — we plussed up our resources — our Coast Guard resources. We also activated more robustly the reunification programs that give a lawful pathway for individuals to reach a country of safety.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Brian.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: There was a second part to that question. Sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, Michael. Trying to get as many —
Q No, I know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — people as I can.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Oh, the regional processing centers.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sorry about that.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I apologize.
So, the regional processing centers — that’s not something that the United States can set up unilaterally within a matter of weeks. This is a — this is a subject that requires a diplomacy. We rely on our foreign partners, and it takes a great deal of partnering not only with the partners themselves but also with the international organizations that are part of the fabric of international human- — humanitarian relief: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and others.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. A bus of migrants from Texas arrived in front of the Vice President’s office this morning — the Vice President’s house this morning. What’s your response to — to that — to more buses of migrants being sent from Texas to Washington, D.C.?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: It is a both sad and tragic day when a government official uses migrants as a pawn for political purposes.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for being here. On the memo that the U.S. Border Patrol chief sent to sector chiefs last night allowing for parole releases if overcrowding becomes an issue — that’s not Title 8, like you said would happen. I mean, these migrants don’t get an alien registration number that would be used to track them. They don’t get a court date. They’re instead asked to self-report to ICE within 60 days.
You said at the beginning that you’ve prepared for this moment for almost two years. So why is part of that plan an honor system?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Oh, it is — it is not an honor system. What we — what we do is we use the resources that we have to meet the challenges that we confront. This is a tool that has been used in the past. The vast majority of individuals will indeed be placed in expedited removal and, if they do not qualify, will be removed in a matter of days, if not weeks, from the United States.
When we — when we encounter a volume of individuals for which we need to address in a different way, we do so. If those individuals do not honor their commitment to surrender to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer to be able to be placed in enforcement proceedings, they are a subject of our apprehension efforts.
Q You said that it would be a fraction of migrants that this happens with. How many is a fraction when you’ve had almost 6 million illegal crossings under this administration?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We, last year, removed, returned, and expelled approximately 1.4 million individuals. That is the most in any one year.
Q Will you be on shaky legal ground though with mass releases?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, first of all —
Q Or will this be on a case-by-case basis?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: First of all, your — your question has a factual predicate with which I would disagree about mass releases, number one.
But releases of individuals subject to immigration enforcement proceedings is not something particular to this administration.
Q (Inaudible) on a case-by-case —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to keep — we got to —
Q — basis, and this would not be on a case-by-case basis.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We — we implement our operations in conjunction with the Department of Justice, and we have confidence in the lawfulness of our actions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Thank you. Mr. Secretary, are you concerned that the new asylum regulations will encourage more children to leave their families since unaccompanied kids are exempt?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No. No, we are — no, we are not. It is an obligation for us to address the needs of unaccompanied children. So, we are — we do not have that concern.
And what we are driving to — what we are fundamentally driving to is to build lawful pathways so people do not have to take — have to make those difficult decisions, and they don’t have to take the dangerous journey in the first place.
And we are expanding lawful pathways to an unprecedented degree under the President’s leadership.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Mr. Secretary, just one more. What is your assessment of Mexico’s enforcement of the border?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We are working very closely with the government of Mexico. The President has spoken with the President of Mexico as recently as earlier this week. They have corresponded last week.
And Mexico is taking very important enforcement measures that we greatly appreciate and that were taken in coordination with us.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Peter.
Q Yeah, so, Mr. Secretary, how is the administration redirecting the immigration judges to prioritize new arrivals? And will that affect the backlog that’s already there for previous arrivals?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So — so, Peter, your — your question, if I may, just to hit this point once again — your question speaks of an immigration court backlog that is — exceeds 2 million cases. What a powerful example of a broken immigration system.
Not only are we surging asylum officers — about a thousand asylum officers — to conduct credible fear screenings in the context of expedited removal, but the Department of Justice is surging immigration judges alongside us.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Steven.
Q Thanks. Sir, if I could ask you about the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sorry, Peter.
Q It’s all right.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m trying to get — sorry, go ahead.
Q The Title 8 enforcement you’re talking about — you’re trying to send a message. Your — the critics of the administration would argue this is a message that you could and probably should have sent earlier on in the administration. Can you walk us through the deliberation? How did you arrive at the idea that there should be a presumption of ineligibility and why was that policy not announced earlier?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, in response to your precise question, we sought to end Title 42, the public health authority earlier. We sought to roll out our immigration enforcement authorities under Title 8 of the United States Code earlier. We were enjoined from doing so by a court.
Q But specifically, the asylum policy, the presumption of inadmissibility — why not come out with that sooner? You’re trying to send a message now. And —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: It’s not a — it’s not a message. We — we don’t promulgate a regulation. We don’t promulgate a law to send a message. We promulgate a law to achieve a policy and operational outcome.
And the outcome that we seek to achieve through this regulation is to incentivize people to take the lawful pathways and disincentivize them to place their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers.
Q But, respectfully, sir, it’s on the screen behind you as deterrence: “New regulation directing migrants…”
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: That’s not a — that’s not a message. That’s a — that’s an impact on human behavior.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. We got to — go ahead. Go ahead. I’ll go to the back. Right here.
Q Thank you. Thank — thank you, Secretary. First, have you ruled out family detention as an option?
And then, two, you said that you have many more migrants than you have appointments for, so is there any effort to try to expand the appointments? And do you have numbers for how many appointments are confirmed per day?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we are indeed expanding the use of CBP One app from approximately 740 arrivals at our ports of entry along the southern border to 1,000 a day. And we w- — are exploring what other capabilities we can add to that.
And the first part of your question was family detention. This administration ended family detention in March of 2021.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q And so you’re not going to bring it back at all?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We’ve made — we’ve made it clear that families who are in immigration enforcement proceedings — including in expedited removal proceedings, a more accelerated immigration enforcement process — will be on alternatives to detention. The conditions of alternatives to detention may be increased as the situation warrants.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Increased to — to what?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, for example, we could place heads of household under curfews so that we are better able to monitor their activities and, I should say, their compliance with our restrictions and obligations to appear in court.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Go ahead.
Q Secretary —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Can you orient me? Sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: VOA, and then we’ll keep going to the back.
Q Thank you, Karine. Mr. Secretary, can you describe how you will be treating any differently migrants at the border that come from countries where we don’t have close working relationship? For example, we’ve seen reporting of migrants coming as far from China, Russia, Syria.
And then my second question, I’m going to try to ask Peter’s question a different way. With some Democrats urging that President Biden end sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, do you support that?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, the — you speak of different demographics arriving at our — our southern border. This speaks to the fact that the challenge of migration is not exclusive to the southern border and is, in fact, not exclusive to the Western Hemisphere.
It — we are seeing a global displacement of people that is the greatest since at least World War Two.
The challenge of encountering individuals from countries that are — to which it’s not easy to remove people has been a longstanding challenge that our immigration laws have run into.
Q So what do you do with those people actually now, people who are coming from Russia and China and so on? What do you do with them?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we place them in — in immigration enforcement proceedings. And they make a cl- — if they make a claim for relief, we adjudicate those claims. And if in fact those claims are granted, then they have, under our laws, a basis on which to stay in the United States. If they do not, then we work with foreign governments to address the enforcement actions that we think are appropriate.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Way in the back.
Q And do you support any sanctions?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: That is a little bit outside the remit of today’s discussion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Way in the back, in the fuchsia.
Q Secretary, thank you. So you’re talking about Congress needing to act on this. Any reaction to the immigration package that House Republicans are looking to vote on today?
And second question, on the processing centers: Was it a mistake to not have them ready to prevent a surge?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Can you repeat the second part of that question? And I would say the President — President Biden presented Congress with a legislative package on day one of this administration, now about 28 months ago, and we are hopeful that sensible and needed legislative reform will be passed by Congress, and we do not concur with the bill that was presented today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q So, on the processing centers specifically, though, was it a mistake to not have them ready in time to prevent a surge?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: As — as I have said, the development of those processing centers is a complex undertaking that requires the work of our foreign partners, international organizations, and the like, and we’ve moved very swiftly.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Franco.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Secretary. Republicans repeatedly seek to paint the administration as being unable to secure the border. I wanted to ask: Do you see this as a test? Does the administration see this as a test or possibly an opportunity to show the American people that the administration does have the ability to manage the border under difficult circumstances?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We — we view this as a challenge, a challenge that we will meet.
Q May I also ask, in regards to the overcrowding and some of these difficult conditions, how long are we talking that this chaotic-ness will be? Are we talking weeks, months, years before things take traction and you get more of a handle on it?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We are working as hard as we can to make sure that that time it takes is as little as possible. Let me say an additional thing in — in response to your — your first question.
This is a challenge, and we’re — we’re going to meet this challenge. We’re going to meet it within a broken immigration system while adhering to our values.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sabrina.
Q Yes. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Last year, there were some estimates from DHS officials putting the highest level of migrants coming across the border each day at about 18,000 if Title 42 is revoked. Is that still the estimate or do you have a clearer number of what you’re anticipating?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, let me clarify the numbers — the number that — to which you refer. Those weren’t predictions. It is our responsibility in the Department of Homeland Security and across the administration to plan for different scenarios. That’s what we do. And so, what we developed was, in fact, different scenarios to which we plan. And so, we have done so and we continue to do so.
Q And then, you know, you’ve talked about this being a challenging transition period, but how long do you expect a potential surge to last? Are we talking weeks, months, longer?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We have confidence in the approach that we are taking, which is to — to really present lawful pathways for individuals to take advantage of and to disincentivize individuals from — from really placing their lives in the hands of smugglers.
And let me s- — let me share with you that the parole processes that we announced and implemented on January 5th for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans are a proof point of the success of our approach. We saw a tremendous demand to access those lawful pathways and we saw a 90 — over 90 percent drop in the number of encounters of individuals from those four countries at our southern border. And we saw that very, very quickly.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. A couple more. Go ahead, Phil.
Q Republicans have challenged you on this point on Capitol Hill, and I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond. You know, they point to Border Patrol’s own numbers, which show that, going back to October of last year, there were more than a million apprehensions, but then there were also more than 530,000 “got-aways.” That’s roughly the size of the population of the city of Baltimore. How can you say that the border is not open?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we removed, returned, and expelled 1.4 million people last year. Ask those 1.4 million people if — if they think the border is open. Our apprehension rate at the border is consistent with the appreha- — apprehension rate in prior years —
Q And then, in El Paso, they’ve declared a state of emer- —
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — thanks to the extraordinary work of the United States Border Patrol.
Q Thank you. And in Palso [sic] — in El Paso, they’ve declared a state of emergency, but we’ve also seen this in other cities like New York and Chicago. I’m wondering, while so much of the focus is on the southern border itself, can you tell us more about the steps that DHS is taking to support those cities elsewhere as, you know, this surge affects not just that geography but other cities and states across the country?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I would say the — a number of things. Number one, we’re grateful to Leader Schumer and Congress for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program funding in the omnibus this past December of $800 million. That’s a significant increase over the prior year’s funding of $150 million.
We’re working very closely with cities and communities along the border and in the interior of the United States. We need the system fixed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Toluse.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Back to the question of mass releases. I know you’ve pushed back against that, but the Florida attorney general has filed a lawsuit against you, alleging that you are about to conduct a policy of mass releases with the news that was released yesterday.
What’s your response to that? And more broadly, what’s your message to the judicial branch, who is playing a role in this process as well?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Well, I don’t — I don’t send messages to the judicial branch. The judges make the decisions that they believe are warranted under the facts and laws before them.
But I will say this: It is — it is interesting to see some of the tools that we employ that are successful or operationally needed to be challenged at the — in — in the courts.
So, for example, the parole process that we announced and implemented on January 5th for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. Immediately, that demonstrated a reduction in the number of those individuals arriving at our southern border of over 95 percent. And yet, it’s been challenged in a court.
And so our parole authority, when we use it to release a fraction of the people whom we encounter and that is challenged, I question the motives of the plaintiffs.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Following up on the Emergency Food and Shelter Program that you just mentioned. Groups in El Paso that are helping to feed and house this influx of migrants, they say this program has a problem in that the funding can only be used to help migrants who have encountered DHS and been processed. Is that requirement realistic to the situation that these communities are facing?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: It is — it is necessary. And I should say, this past Friday, under the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, we distributed $332 million, primarily to border communities. We now have — under the new structure that the omnibus that Congress equipped us with, we now have the Shelter and Services Program that we in the Department of Homeland Security will control. That will prove, I think, more nimble. And we, I think, have 363 —
Q But that still will have that same restriction, that it has to be — can only be used for migrants who have been processed. So what about those that have not been processed? Is that not — is there no way to help with addressing the humanitarian need there?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, to — just to finish my thought, I think we have about $363 million to distribute through the Shelter and Services Program. And I believe that nongovernmental organizations in the cities address the needs of individuals who have not been processed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Three more. Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: If you could raise your hand so I can orient —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I was pointing to you, (inaudible), but go ahead, Raquel.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: — orient visually.
Oh, yeah. Thank you.
Q Thank you so much, Karine and Mr. Secretary. So they were saying here that Republicans have changed — (inaudible) the administration — on the border. But at the same time, some Democrats are saying that President Biden broke his promise of having a more humane immigration system and that he is finishing Trump’s job.
So, I ask you: How is it more humane to expel people and penalize them, people who are fleeing violence and poverty? You were just saying that the number of the deportation was the highest last year of any year.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So let me just — the words have legal significance. So an expulsion is what happens under the public health authority of Title 42. We sought to end the application of Title 42 some time ago.
This administration stands markedly different than the prior administration. Markedly different.
We have, in fact, a Family Reunification Task Force that has now reunified, I think, more than 700 families that were cruelly separated. We have — by the prior administration.
We have rescinded the public charge rule that punishes individuals who’ve migrated to the United States just for accessing public resources to which they are entitled.
We have granted temporary protected status to quite a number of countries.
This President has led the unprecedented expansion of lawful pathways. We stand markedly different than the prior administration. We do not resemble it at all.
What we do — and, by the way, we have rebuilt an asylum system that was dismantled in the prior administration.
We have resumed refugee processing ar- — all around the world. And these regional processing centers are going to accelerate the — (coughs) — pardon me — the refugee process in an unprecedented way.
We are a nation of immigrants, and we are a nation of laws. And those laws provide that if one qualifies for humanitarian relief, then one has established the basis to remain in the United States. And if one has not, then one is to be removed. And that is exactly what is going to happen.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, Ed. (Inaudible.)
We got- — we got to go. We’re — we’re out of time. Go ahead, Ed.
Q So — so, you talked about cost. What’s the rough cost to American taxpayers since the roughly 4 million people have come into this country illegally, since January of 2021? As those people show up in community hospitals, as they enter the school system, as they get other government help — do you have a taxpayer cost?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Let me turn that question around a little bit, because I’m going to turn it around to match the question that an international partner asked of me. And the question that the international partner asked of me is, “What is the economic cost of your broken immigration system?” Since there are businesses around this country that are desperate for workers, there are desperate workers looking for jobs in — desperate workers in foreign countries that are looking for jobs in the United States where they can earn money lawfully and send much-needed remittances back home. What is the cost of a broken immigration system? That is the question that I am asked, and that is the question that I pose to Congress, because it is extraordinary.
Q But do you have — do you have the cost that the taxpayers are paying now?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I — I believe I have addressed your question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, final two.
Q I wanted to ask one more on the regional processing centers. I know you said it takes a ton of coordination, but can you give any more detail as to what’s standing in between these actually being stood up? Is it a personnel thing? Is it a matter of nailing down location, working out agreements with international partners? Just a little bit more on that.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes.
Q All of them? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes. It — it — it — there are a lot of moving pieces.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thank you —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q Thank you, Karine. So I just wanted to ask about messaging, because, for years, the administration has said that the border is closed, and migrant crossings continue to notch records. And you just said that your message to migrants who are traveling unlawfully is: Do not spend your life savings coming here only to be apprehended if and when you arrive here. But I’m wondering what you think it will take for that message to land.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: The question is a very important one because it speaks of two things. One is, of course, the efforts we make. But the second is a phenomenon that we are confronting, and that is the smuggling organizations that spread disinformation to vulnerable migrants. They lie to migrants.
And as a matter of fact, when I was in Panama, speaking to my counterpart — the Foreign Secretary in Panama and the Secretary — the Minister of Security — they were speaking of the fact that smugglers in that region of the world, before the migrants enter the Darién, an incredibly treacherous terrain, they are deceived into thinking that they are going to be on a two-day tour.
And so, the smuggling organizations prey on the vulnerability of migrants and exploit that vulnerability solely for profit.
We are communicating to migrants in country to communicate the truth, the dangers of the journey, the exploitation of the smugglers. And just yesterday, we announced an extraordinary digital campaign to amplify that messaging, which is so vital.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Final — final question right there.
Q I was just wondering if you could put some specifics on this plan. Let’s say Border Patrol catches 10,000 migrants tomorrow. Of those, how many are going to be detained? How many will be caught and released? And how many will be removed and returned within 72 hours?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So let me — let me share with you that we have already encountered 10,000 individuals in a single day. You know, so we already have proven that we can manage through that. We have surged resources — not just the Department of Homeland Security, but the Department of Justice in bringing immigration judges to work alongside asylum officers — to address the expedited removal process. We have surged the resources that we have, given the resources that we have been given by Congress, which is less than what we need and less than what we requested, to meet the challenge to the best of our abilities.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, Karine. Thank you all.
Q Thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Q Mr. Secretary, would you call it a crisis?
Q Are you going to the border anytime soon?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, guys, we are way over time. So even our amazing cleaning crew has come in a couple times. (Laughter.) So I can take a couple of questions, but we have to — we really have to wrap up. We’ve been going for almost I think about an hour, if not close.
Q Karine, in the back, please?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It has to be somebody I haven’t called on yet.
Q Yeah, right back. Right here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Way — way in the back. Right there.
Q Thank you so much. New Hampshire’s Michael Delaney was not among the stalled nominees the Judiciary Committee voted on today, with Senator Dianne Feinstein back in Washington. Does President Biden still support him among apparent concerns from some Democrats? And what is the White House doing to get him over the finish line?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we take our — our nominees very seriously. The President clearly puts forth nominees that he believes are — are ready and equipped for the job. And so, of course, we’re always going to be — make sure that we do everything that we can — having conversations with the senators and their staff — to try to move our nominees through. So we are committed, for certain.
You had another question in there. It was — oh, and then you mentioned Senator Fein- — Feinstein. We’re — we’re glad to see her back.
As you know, she is a longtime friend of — of the President. And — and we’re — we’ve been — he’s been wishing her a speedy recovery and is glad to see her back — back in — back in the Senate. And I’ll leave that there.
I’m trying to figure out who — go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Has the President reached out to Senator Manchin after he said he’ll vote against the EPA nominees? Or what’s the plan to get these nominees through if not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I don’t have anything more to say than what I shared yesterday on the — on Senator Manchin’s comments.
Look, Senator Manchin is a friend. We’ve been able to do really historic — move forward some historic pieces of legislation with Senator Manchin, including the Inflation Reduction Act and other bipartisan infrastructure bills and — law now — and other pieces of legislation.
So we are going to continue to have conversations with him. We’re going to continue to have a good relationship. I just don’t have anything more than what I shared yesterday.
Go ahead, Aurelia.
Q Thank you so much. Can you update on the talks about the debt ceiling?
And related to this, Donald Trump yesterday said that Republicans should actually trigger default if they don’t get spending cuts. Does that make a default more likely?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I would remind you all what he said in 2019.
And first, I got to be super, super careful. Let me just say that first. We respect the rule of law. He is a — we know — a presidential candidate.
But what I will say more broadly and focus on what — what he said in 2019, how — I’m paraphrasing here — how defaulting is not something that we should be doing. And so, the question is: What has changed? What has changed now from 2019 to today?
Look, we’ve been very clear that Congress needs to do their job. They must do their job. It’s their constitutional duty to get this done. We’ve done it three times under the last administration. We’ve done it 78 times since 1960.
But also, like I said, want to be very careful because he is a — he is a presidential candidate. But I can speak to 2019 and his comments about the importance of — of making sure that we do not default and we’re not a deadbeat nation.
Okay. Let me see. Go ahead, (inaudible). I haven’t called on you.
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine. I have another question on the situation at the southern border. So, even ahead of the chaos of this week, morale amongst Border Patrol agents is low. They’ve been through a lot with the ongoing surge of people coming across the border. And according to the Acting Deputy Commissioner of the CBP, 36 agents died by suicide in the last three years alone. So what is President Biden doing to show America’s frontline police that he hears them and that he cares about the unprecedented issues they’re facing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And so, look, our hearts go out to those families of — of those law enforcement members who, as you just stated, took their lives.
So, look, Secretary Mayorkas spoke to this. He actually lifted up the — the CBP and said the work that they’re doing is truly trem- — tremendous.
This is why the President has taken this so seriously, making sure that we have troops that go down to the border so that they can give some relief to the CBP — the patrol, the law enforcement — and be able — so that they can be able to do their jobs. Right? And so that’s why we put that — we put forth.
And what we have seen on our end is — you’ve seen House Republicans who have voted to fire 2,000 law enforcement, those C- — those same CBP members. They voted to fire at least 2,000, voted against giving — giving resources for folks who are at the border, for DHS, for these law enforcement officers.
And so, the President is doing everything that he can with the tools that he has in front of him. That’s why he asked Congress on his first day: Please, we have a comprehensive plan in front of you, we want you to — we want you to take a look at this, we want to fix a system that has been broken for decades — you heard the Secretary said since 1990s.
And so, it is time to get to work. The President is doing everything that he can. We understand there is a challenge at the border, but we have — are going to continue to put forth a robust multi-agency process to deal with an issue that has been around for decades and decades.
I’m trying to see who I have not called. Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine. Do you have updates on when the President and congressional leaders will meet tomorrow, how much time the President is allotting for that meeting? And can you give us an update on the staff meeting that took place since that principals meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I —
Q And how would you characterize that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. So, I don’t have any updates for you yet for tomorrow.
As you know, the President asked the four leaders, the congressional leaders, to come together again tomorrow to follow up on a conversation that they had just a couple of days ago.
As you know, we don’t read out private conversations and we certainly don’t negotiate in public. But I can confirm, as you all have been reporting, that the staff met yesterday to follow up on the conversation, to talk about congressional leaders, to — the four congressional leaders — and how they saw moving forward on budget and spending.
That’s regular order. That is something that has been done year after year, to talk about appropriations.
And so, the staff are meeting again today, and don’t have anything further beyond that, but certainly we will share once we have a time and more information and logistics to share on tomorrow’s meeting.
Q And just — just another quick one on the visit of the Spanish president tomorrow. Is there a two-and-two press conference that’s been added for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a press conference to read out to you. As you know, we are — the President is very much looking forward to speaking w- — to speaking with the leader. I just don’t have anything more to share. I’m sure NSC will be holding some sort of background call and more information to share with all of you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I’m going to take one more. Go ahead, Courtney. I’m just trying to call — guys, I’m trying to call on people that I have not called on today.
Q You’ve not called on me.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, go ahead, Courtney.
Q Thank you. You started at the top talking about the end of COVID emergency. Have you at this point — or has the President put in place the plan for the White House pandemic team? I know you don’t have a pandemic preparedness office up yet.
Dr. Jha hasn’t said if he’s leaving, but I know his team is unwinding. Dr. Walensky is leaving. Can you talk a little bit about the leadership that’s going to be in charge of the — of COVID moving forward, especially if the tools that we have that you’ve been discussing don’t work at a certain point or don’t work as well?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — I don’t have anything to share. I know you just asked me about the COVID team. We did — as I mentioned at the top, we are — we do have an Office of Pandemic Preparedness, as I’ve mentioned multiple times. It was in the omnibus budget package for fiscal year 2023. So it’s — Congress called on us to establish this office.
So, we are working through that. And once we have more information, we will share that with all of you.
I will be back tomorrow, everybody, and I will take — we’ll take more information.
Q Howard University? Howard University Saturday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll — I’ll be back tomorrow, guys. Thanks, everybody.
2:13 P.M EDT