President Joe Biden’s Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, accused the Trump administration of gutting the U.S. immigration system, complicating his job as he tries to meet demands from Democrats to roll back his predecessors’ policies.
“The prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety,” Mayorkas said Monday at a White House press briefing. “The entire system was gutted.”
Mayorkas and the agencies he leads have come under criticism for not more rapidly unwinding Trump administration policies, including a program that forced migrants attempting to gain asylum in the U.S. to wait in squalid camps on the Mexican side of the border.
He also accused the Trump administration of issuing “unlawful” contracts within his department, without immediately elaborating. Mayorkas cited an agreement signed just before Trump left office requiring the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to approve any immigration policy changes.
Mayorkas urged new migrants to wait before undertaking the dangerous journey north to the U.S., in anticipation that Biden will make it easier to win asylum.
“What we are seeing now at the border is the immediate result of the dismantlement of the system and the time that it takes to rebuild it virtually from scratch,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, he’s had to keep in place Trump administration pandemic-related policies, “in the service of public health,” that have led to migrants being turned away and sent back into Mexico.
“We need individuals to wait,” he said. “They will wait with a goal in mind, and that is our ability to rebuild, as quickly as possible, a system so that they don’t have to take the dangerous journey and we can enable them to access humanitarian relief from their country of origin.”
He acknowledged that “families and single adults are indeed being returned, under Covid-19 restrictions.”
A spokeswoman for former President Donald Trump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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