Mayorkas defends Biden's executive order to ban asylum seekers temporarily — but says it’s a work in progress

"It's early, the signs are positive," the Homeland Security Secretary said of Biden's new order.

Alejandro Mayorkas.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is weighing in on President Biden's latest executive order that temporarily blocks migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday to defend President Biden’s recent executive order that temporarily shuts down sections of the U.S. border with Mexico to asylum seekers.

The measure, which went into effect after receiving Biden’s signature last week, will effectively block most migrants (with some exceptions) who attempt to cross the border between ports of entry from seeking protections in the U.S. until the number of unauthorized border crossers dips below 1,500 for seven straight days.

“It’s early; the signs are positive,” Mayorkas told host Martha Raddatz about the results of the executive order. “Our personnel have done an extraordinary job in implementing a very big shift in how we operate on the southern border.”

Since Biden took office, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has encountered over six million migrants at the U.S. border to Mexico. Reuters reported Saturday that, according to an unnamed senior U.S. border official, preliminary arrest numbers were indicating early signs of success. The official told Reuters that U.S. border authorities had arrested around 3,100 people attempting to cross between ports of entry on Friday, a 20% decrease from the days before.

Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s latest effort to crack down on immigration at the southern border — and how Mayorkas sees it playing out.

Biden’s order essentially prevents asylum seekers from entering the U.S. between ports of entry along the southern border until immigration officers encounter 1,500 or fewer daily migrants for seven consecutive days.

A fact sheet released by the White House stressed that the actions are not permanent and are meant to pressure migrants from crossing to the southern border without authorization in high numbers. According to the White House, the 1,500 threshold is a low enough number for “America’s system to safely and effectively manage border operations.”

There are some exceptions, however. Migrants with pre-scheduled appointments with a border patrol agent will still be processed, as well as unaccompanied children and victims of human trafficking.

The goal of lowering the number of asylum seekers to 1,500 per day may seem ambitious, but Mayorkas is confident it will get done — though it’s too soon to say when.

“We are at a very early stage. Implementation, as you noted, has just begun,” he told Raddatz, emphasizing that the U.S. remains steadfast in communicating with migrants “throughout the region about the lawful pathways” to seek asylum.

Some of those efforts include building “safe mobility offices” in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Costa Rica so that the U.S. can reach asylum seekers “where they are” before they decide to make “the perilous journey” to the U.S. border.

The White House waited close to four months to implement an executive order after Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan border security deal in February. The proposed legislation was derailed again in May, when lawmakers failed to advance the bill in the Senate.

When asked why it took so long for the Biden administration to implement its own action, Mayorkas blamed Congress and, ultimately, the process.

“The bipartisan deal was rejected once. We pressed forward again. It was rejected a second time,” he explained. “Then we developed this and have implemented it, and we are at an early stage. And let’s not minimize the significance of this move and the significance of operationalizing it. And it requires the cooperation of other countries, which we have secured.”

While Biden’s order has received backlash from both sides, Mayorkas pointed to the termination of Title 42, an emergency public health measure allowing for the expulsion of migrants seeking asylum, as an example of how public discourse may change in the coming weeks.

Title 42 was put in place by then-president Donald Trump at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was lifted in May 2023.

“People expected pandemonium,” he recalled in the weeks before Title 42 ended. During that time, Biden sent 15,000 U.S. troops to the southern border to help control the flow of migrants. Border cities like El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville declared a state of emergency and received federal resources to help with the surge of new arrivals.

“Our model worked,” Mayorkas said. “We drove [migrant] numbers down. They go down. They go up.”

The ACLU has pledged to sue the Biden administration over the policy, asserting that it puts “thousands of lives at risk,” but Mayorkas isn’t backing down.

“I respectfully disagree with the ACLU,” he said. “I anticipate they will sue us. We stand by the legality of what we have done. We stand by the value proposition.”

The issue goes beyond just “securing the border,” Mayorkas explained. “We have a humanitarian obligation to keep vulnerable people out of the hands of exploitative smugglers. There have been many [stories] about the trauma and the tragedy inflicted by those organizations.”

“What we need is congressional action,” he continued. “We cannot resource the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Justice with additional personnel. We need Congress to legislate.”