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Mayorkas says some migrants "try to game" the U.S. asylum system

Mayorkas on migrants and the asylum system
Mayorkas says some migrants "try to game" the U.S. asylum system 01:50

El Paso, Texas — In an interview with CBS News, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said some migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are trying to "game" the U.S. asylum system, echoing a statement often made by Republicans but rarely expressed by Biden administration officials.

"The reality is that some people do indeed try to game the system," Mayorkas told CBS News in El Paso last Thursday. "That does not speak to everyone whom we encounter, but there is an element of it, and we deal with it accordingly."

Mayorkas made the comment in response to a question about concerns some Americans have expressed about the situation at the southern border, where U.S. officials have reported record levels of migrant apprehensions over the past three years. Immigration has become one of President Biden's worst-polling issues, as well as a top concern for voters heading into November's presidential election.

For years, Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have accused migrants of cheating or abusing the U.S. asylum process to stay in the country indefinitely, arguing that restrictions or bans on asylum need to be enacted to deter those who don't qualify from filing weak or non-existent cases. 

When speaking of reforming the U.S. asylum system, however, Democrats and Biden administration officials like Mayorkas have mainly talked about the need to speed up the processing of claims, to quickly grant asylum to those who qualify for protection and deport those who don't. 

Mayorkas discusses dramatic decrease in illegal border crossings 05:49

U.S. law allows migrants physically on American soil to request asylum, even if they enter the country unlawfully. But applicants have to prove they are fleeing persecution because of their nationality, race, religion, political views or membership in a social group. Many migrants who initially apply for asylum are ultimately unable to meet the legal threshold to receive it, government figures show.

During the interview last week, Mayorkas said a border security proposal he helped broker with a small bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate "would have equipped us with more tools to deal with those individuals who seek to game the system."

The legislation, which has collapsed twice due to insufficient Republican support, would raise the threshold for passing initial asylum interviews and create a presidential power to shut down asylum processing in between ports of entry when illegal border crossings soar. 

"We would drive traffic to our ports of entry in an orderly way," Mayorkas said about the bill, which would preserve asylum processing at official border crossings when the presidential "shutdown" authority is triggered or invoked.

The Biden administration and Mayorkas have faced a tidal wave of criticism from Republican lawmakers over the unprecedented levels of migration to the U.S. southern border in recent years. Mayorkas became the first Cabinet official to be impeached since the 1870s in February, when House Republicans accused him of breaching the public's trust and failing to fully enforce federal immigration laws.

Mayorkas said the accusation that Biden administration policy has encouraged desperate migrants to journey to the U.S. is "false."

"The reasons why people leave their countries of origin are those with which we are quite familiar: extraordinary poverty, violence, extreme weather events, corruption, suppression by authoritarian regimes. Those reasons and more," Mayorkas said.

While Mr. Biden came into office vowing to "restore" the asylum system, his administration has embraced some limits on asylum, including a rule that presumes migrants are ineligible for refuge if they failed to seek protection in a third country. Mr. Biden is also considering an executive action that would attempt to suspend asylum processing when there's an influx in illegal border entries.

Migrant crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped by over 50% this month since setting all-time highs in December, a trend American officials said mainly stems from Mexico's efforts to stop migrants and increased deportations by the Biden administration.

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