Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas

January 08, 2023

Aboard Air Force One
En Route El Paso, Texas

1:29 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, as you know, today we're headed to El Paso, Texas. I've got Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas right here next to me, and I'll turn it over to him shortly to provide more detail about the trip and take your questions. 

But let me give you a little bit at the top. So, I can walk you through the President's schedule today. While in El Paso, the President will assess enforcement operations at the Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry, which is the busiest port in El Paso.

The port recently received $600 million through the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to harden and expand the port to better facilitate trade, increase trade, increase security, and improve processing. 

Following the port visit, President Biden will visit a federal -- federally funded migrant services center. He will meet with local officials, faith leaders, and NGOs who have been critical to supporting migrants fleeing political oppression and economic collapse in their home countries. 

The President will also hear from local business leaders about the critical economic impact immigrants have on this region to address the workforce shortages.

One last piece here, if I could get to it: So, throughout the day, the President will be joined by federal, state, and local officials and community leaders, including Customs and Bor- -- and Border Protection officers, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, Congressman Henry Cuellar, Congressman Vicente González, and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser.

With that, I'll turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas to talk a bit -- a bit more about the El Paso community and how it's served as a model of federal and loc- -- a model of federal and local officials working together to solve tough challenges, and the resources his team has been surging into the region.

Go ahead, Secretary.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thanks so much. So, the President is stopping at El Paso on the way to Mexico City for the North American Leader's Summit. And El Paso is a place where, of course, we've seen an acute challenge -- most significantly in December. And he'll also have a chance to see the work of the Border Patrol agents and field -- the Office of Field Operations in Customs and Border Protection.

We have surged resources in response to the challenge in El Paso. We surged 100 Border Patrol agents. We are, I believe on Tuesday, going to be opening up a new soft-sided facility that will be able to process up to 1,000 migrants a day. The central processing center that we have there has a capacity of 1,700. 

We have worked very closely -- (the Secretary accidentally bumps into a microphone) -- my apology. We've worked very closely with Mayor Leeser of the city as well as Judge Samaniego of the county. 

We have surged emergency food and shelter program funding to them. We have also given them an extension on the expenditure -- the funding already provided -- given the challenges they have faced. 

We've worked with the Red Cross -- for the Red Cross to surge resources for individuals who have been on the street. The Red Cross has been very responsive. 

So, it's a model not only of the public-private partnership, but also the federal government with the local officials. 

So, I really want to open it up to your questions, whatever you might have. 

Q: Secretary -- thanks, Karine. Secretary, can I ask about the asylum procedures? If the idea is that migrants are going to have to ask for asylum in the country where they first arrive ahead of the U.S., are there, you know, talks right now to help most bolster Mexico's asylum -- asylum systems or even possibly Guatemala's asylum systems? How is it going to work?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, let me take a step back. I think you're referring to the announcement that we made on Thursday -- and, specifically, the use of the CBP One application, which is to identify a pre-designated date and time at which an individual can arrive at a port of entry to make the claim of asylum. 

So -- and, yes, we are working with our regional partners to ensure that they're building up their humanitarian relief capabilities as well. 

Q: So, the idea is not that they'll have to ask for asylum in Mexico, but rather they'll have to use the app to ask for asylum in the U.S. and then stay until they're --

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: What we're trying to do is -- and more broadly -- incentivize a safe and orderly way and cut out the smuggling organizations. 

So, what we're trying to have them do is incentivize them to come to the ports of entry, instead of in between the ports of entry. 

The CBP One application was first really developed in response to the squalid conditions in which migrants found themselves at the beginning of the administration in Camp Matamoros. 

So, what we did there is we worked with the nonprofit organizations, the international organizations. So, once they had their appointment, we brought them safely to a port of entry, and we're working with our regional partners to develop that same capability.

Q: But, Ali, the -- Mr. Secretary, the --

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: (Inaudible.)

Q: -- the proposed rule that you guys say you want to pursue would, in fact, largely -- I mean, according to the advocacy community -- would deny migrants the opportunity to -- the serious opportunity to apply for asylum and be considered on its merits in the United States if they have crossed through Mexico and not applied for asylum in Mexico first. 

And they say that is a real reduction in what is international human rights law around the world that you guys want to take away. That's what they say. 

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, Michel, understood. So, and I -- and I've seen the criticism of "It is a ban." But it is not a ban at all, and it is markedly different than what the Trump administration proposed. What we are trying to do is draw people in a safe and orderly way, which is not the case now. 

I get it. I've seen firsthand what trauma is inflicted on migrants who actually use the smuggling organizations, so -- trauma or tragedy. 

So, what we're trying to do is incentivize individuals through the CBP One application to make an appointment and to come at the port of entry to cut out the smuggling organizations.

If they do not -- and by the way, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will have humanitarians exception -- humanitarian exceptions -- hypothetically, because we're still working out the details. 

But it's -- if someone is in imminent threat of harm; if someone doesn't have the capacity, for example, to use CBP One app -- although I think you know that most migrants do indeed have cellphones, but there may be literacy challenges; or whatever -- whatever the humanitarian reasons might be. 

But that -- what we're trying to do is have them use this app, come to a port of entry in a safe and orderly way, and make their claim. 

If they do not use that application, then they will need to have applied for humanitarian relief in one of the countries through which they have traveled. If they don't use the application to -- they will have had to apply for humanitarian relief in one of the countries through which they have traveled. And if they were denied, then -- then they are not subject to -- not a ban, but a rebuttable presumption of ineligibility. And there's a marked difference between the two.

Q: Can I ask about the visit today? How closely will President Biden actually see some of the crowding that's taking place in El Paso? Will he see any people on the streets in the downtown area? And will he be able to actually speak to any of the migrants who have crossed?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, I'm -- forgive me, I'm not that close to what exactly the -- the details of the trip are. I know he's going to see, as Karine mentioned, the port of entry, which I think is the second-busiest port along the border both with respect to commercial traffic and passenger traffic. But I don't know the details of the itinerary. 

I should say that the number of individuals encountered at the border has dropped precipitously.

Q: Since the new rules?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No, no, no, that -- because I wouldn't want to create a misimpression that the results are realized that quickly. But since the peak in December of 2,000 a day, it's now -- I believe the most recent figure was 700.

Q: Can you speak to -- Republicans seem hellbent on perhaps impeaching you. How is your office preparing for a Republican Congress oversight?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: (Inaudible) doing the work that we need to get done.

Q: I have a question about the parole program that was announced on Thursday. Some of the advocates have looked at this program that requires people to be in their home country, have a U.S. sponsor, and fly themselves to the United States as a wealth test. What's your response to that? Is this a wealth test --

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No. It's a --

Q: -- so that only people with means would be able to apply for this program? 

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, Brian, the migrants who reach the border in between the ports of entry on -- the vast majority, if not more than that, are using smuggling organizations to get there. And the average cost is $6,000. 

And so, it is not a wealth test. What we're trying to do is spare individuals of placing their life savings in the hands of smuggling organizations, as well as their lives. So, we do not find it to be a barrier. 

And quite frankly, with respect to the Venezuela program, the level of applications was rocket speed throughout the duration of it, which is why we're lifting the 24,000 limit. And we've already had hundreds of applications since we opened up the process for the Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and now for the Venezuelans as well. 

Q: Mr. Secretary, why is the -- why is the President going now, two years into this administration and on the eve of a -- of a summit with two other nations where this could threaten to overshadow it? And how does the Mexican government feel about these changes?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, the President is on his way to Mexico City for the North American Leader's Summit. He made a decision to see what the challenges are and how we've responded to those challenges in El Paso.

I have been down to the border now, certainly, more than a dozen times. I don't know if it's 15, 17, or what have you, and, certainly, have reported back to him with respect to what I have seen and what -- how we are responding to what I have seen. 

Q: What do you think the President will learn by going to the border? And how do you think that will influence his -- his conversations with the Mexican leader?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I will tell you one thing that I think he's going to see firsthand is the incredible work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection -- both the Border Patrol agents, the Field Office personnel, as well as the support that others provide to them. I really am very eager for him to see the extraordinary work that they perform every day.

Q: This country has a labor shortage right now. I wonder what impact at all, if any, did it have on the announcement last Thursday? In other words, are these numbers higher than they would have been if you take into account the fact that this country needs workers? 

And what is the overlay? What is your message to the American public about the impact of a labor shortage in America on the immigration policy at the southwest border?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, the -- the labor shortage in the United States is one powerful example of how desperately we need to fix our broken immigration system. 

You know, we look to the north. And Canada -- and Canada realized that it has a 1-million-person labor shortage there, and they are bringing in approximately 1.4 million migrants this year to address that labor shortage. 

Our programs -- our H-2A, our H-2B, our skilled worker programs are far outdated to re- -- to really meet the economic needs as well as the economic opportunities that immigration can provide. 

Q: You can't really fix them without Congress. Is that fair?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: That is correct. We -- on the very first day in office, the President sent over a bill to Congress to fix the system. And, of course, Congress has yet to act. 

Q: You mentioned the Canadians, sir. Very briefly, Prime Minister Trudeau has raised the issue over the NEXUS programming. He wants to discuss that with President Biden. Is there any response you have to the Canadians on that?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, I've been working very closely with my counterpart, Minister Mendicino of Canada. I'm hopeful that we'll have a readout to provide with respect to the success that we've achieved on the development of the NEXUS program. 

And just for everybody's visibility, the NEXUS program is one of the facilitators of -- of travel between our two countries.

Q: Is it possible -- so the four nationalities that were chosen, that were decided with the asylum -- or the border policy rules that -- this past week -- are the four nationalities where you are seeing, like, a large increase in border crossings?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, it's a -- it's a combination of things. Number one, it's responsive to the demographics that we've seen at the border. The three top nationalities, other than Mexico --

Q: Right.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: -- single adults from Mexico -- have been, in fact, Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans. 

It's been responsive to the demographics, as well as to the conditions in those countries, the authoritarian regimes. And I don't need to speak too much about the conditions in Haiti; I think you're all aware of them. So, it's a combination of factors. 

Q: And is it possible that those nationalities could change or -- depending on what it looks like in the future?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, we don't have anything new to announce now, but we're hopeful these -- this policy works, as it has tremendously with respect to Venezuelans. We went from over 1,100 encounters per day of Venezuelans to below 100. 

Q: Can you talk about the security situation in Mexico and how some of the Mexican government's actions, like the arrest of El Chapo's son, is affecting migration and how you feel about those developments?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I'm not in a position to speak to a correlation between migration from Mexico and the action with respect to the son. I think it's a little too early to draw conclusions there.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about the issue of where -- how satisfied you are with Mexico's willingness to take migrants back? The 30,000 that you announced as part of the expanded Title 42 return program is dwarfed by the number of people that are actually coming. I think in November alone, there were like 90,000 people from those four countries alone.

Mexico said they're putting a cap of 30,000 a month. Is that enough? Are you satisfied that they're willing to -- to do what needs to be done?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, Michael, you know, Mexico made its independent decision with respect to the number of individuals it would accept on a monthly -- on a monthly basis. 

We've been very pleased and very grateful for the partnership that we've had on addressing the migration challenge that, as I've said publicly a number of times, is not unique to the southern border of the United States, nor unique to the southern border of Mexico. It's something that is gripping the entire (inaudible). 

You know, we're -- we're seeing seven- -- well, between 5- and 700 Ecuadorians a day at our border. I was in -- Colombia is housing 2.4 million Venezuelans. I was in Costa Rica, and I believe the population of Costa Rica now might have just exceeded 5 percent -- composed of Nicaraguans. It's really remarkable the number of -- the level of displacement throughout the hemisphere, which is reflective of the level of displacement around the world. 

Q: For the sake of argument, would your preference be, if the funding system was in place, to welcome more migrants than you are now? Is it just a resources issue? Or do you think that the very notion of people being able to cross unfettered is objectionable?

In other words, what -- why not throw the doors open? Is it a resource issue or is it a policy issue?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Let me -- let me break this down. First of all, there's legal immigration, right? There's -- the three goals of our immigration system are economic prosperity, and there we need to fix our system; humanitarian relief, and there we need to fix our system; and the third is family reunification, and we have very limited avenues for that.

We're just dealing with a broken system. We are, in each of those areas, doing whatever we can. 

To give an example, we've maximized our use of the H-2B visa program, and we actually accelerated its openness with unprecedented speed.

In the area of humanitarian relief, one of the announcements on Thursday was to process 20,000 refugees in the Western Hemisphere in Fiscal Year '23 and Fiscal Year '24. That is an unprecedented number. 

With respect to family reunification, we're rebuilding the Haitian Family Reunification Program. We've recommenced the Cuban Family Reunification Program. We're working with the migration accords that are restarting. 

So, we're working in all different avenues. But fundamentally, we have to fix the system.

Q: But, philosophically, if there was ample funding and if there was immigration reform -- I realize neither of that is the case -- does this administration think that there should be caps consistent with what they are now on these -- on those three buckets you mentioned? Or if you had money and a better system, would you think that America should be bringing in more people?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: One of our proudest traditions is to provide humanitarian relief for people (inaudible) persecution by reason of their membership in a particular social group. That is one of our proudest traditions, and there is not a cap on the claim of asylum in the United States. And this President has increased the number of individuals eligible for refugee.

In the area of economic migration, our system is not calibrated, as I mentioned earlier, to meet our needs, nor meet the opportunities that migrants can bring to the United States. 

Q: How does the President think about striking the balance between establishing a deterrence and humanitarian relief? 

Was Thursday's announcement, where you announced a (inaudible) for 30,000 people as well as turning 30,000 people back into Mexico each month -- is that an example of the President trying to strike a balance between humanitarian assistance and deterrence?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: The President agreed to a 30,000-per-month parole program as a very important step in bringing people in a safe and orderly way. 

Mexico made an independent decision with respect to its capability and its policy approach to how many people it would receive back. Those two are actually independent of one another. 

Q: Is it coincidence that the numbers are the same: 30,000?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: What's that? 

Q: Was it coincidence?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: (Inaudible) how, you know, the decision was sequenced between the two countries. 

Q: Was the President's number -- was that a suggestion of staff, or did he raise the number or lower the number?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS: We discussed it in a deliberative approach, but, you know, these decisions were made in a cohesive way as a team. This administration works as a team. 

Thanks. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. 

I just want to say a couple of things, as the Secretary was saying. Look, the President is going to visit the busiest port in El Paso. And so, just wanted to make that clear. 

And -- and, you know, he'll also be visiting the migrant center, as I said at the top. But also want to say about -- the El Paso community has long welcomed migrants seeking asylum under Republican and Democrats' administration alike. 

And so, what the President is going to do -- as I said at the top and as the Secretary was going -- was saying as well -- he's going to assess border enforcement operations there firsthand. He'll meet with elected officials as well and local officials who have been critical partners in this. 

And so, just want to reiterate that because I know a question was asked about what -- what he's going to do.

Q: Is he going to speak with some migrants at the -- at the at the migrant center?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, he's going to visit the migrant center. You all will -- you all are going to be -- be there throughout the day, and so you'll see for himself -- for yourselves.

But he is going to go to a migrant center. He is going to talk to the Customs and Border Patrol officials and other local officials, who have been great partners in this. 

And so, again, you all are going to be joining us, and you all will see for yourselves.

Q: Just a logistics question for us. In Abdullah's note last night, he said the President will be once again calling on Republicans to -- you know, whatever he -- he said a bunch of things that the President was going to do. 

There's no- -- on the schedule, there's nothing that suggests any remarks. So, are we -- are we -- he's not going to be doing those things that Abdullah said in the --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. No.

Q: Okay. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, he won't be giving remarks. I mean, but, look, I've said it, the President has said it -- he said it most recently on Thursday: asking Congress to take action. And, you know --

Q: But it wasn't a substantive thing. It was just a, I mean --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, I -- it's a logistical. Totally got it.

Q: Logistical, like should we be anticipating some sort of --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, that's right. 

And then, just one thing, because you -- he was talking -- the Secretary was talking about the stats in El Paso, so just want to give you a little bit of an update there. 

The number of people attempting to cross the border unlawfully in El Paso is now down by over 70 percent, and that has been since mid-December, while our unprecedented effort operations continue to result in record fentanyl seizures. 

But since the President launched the Venezuela parole process, the average daily number of Venezuelan nationals encountered at the border in El Paso alone is now a quarter of what it was prior to the launch. 

So, again, the President's border enforcement measures are working. But again, this -- these are steps that he -- the President is able to take. He's taking this, clearly, very seriously. 

But again, we're going to continue to ask for Congress to act. That's the way that we're going to fix this broken system. 

Just wanted to touch on those two things. 

Q: The President spoke to the -- this -- the new Speaker yesterday. Can you put some context there? How long did the conversation take place? What was the tone of that conversation? And what was the President's message?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I -- I'm not going to go into details of a private conversation. As you know, the President publicly and the First Lady publicly congratulated Speaker McCarthy as soon as he was elected yesterday. As we -- as you saw from our note, the President spoke to Speaker McCarthy on the phone to congratulate him directly. 

But, look, there's nothing new. The President has been very consistent and very precise about how he sees us moving forward in 20- -- in 2023 and beyond. He wants us to work -- you know, to work with -- he wants to work with Republicans in good faith to continue to deliver for the American people. And he is out -- he's going to outreach his hand to do just that. 

And let's be very clear here. Let's not forget: In November, that's what they said. That's what the American public said. They want to see us working together to continue to deliver and build upon the President's economic policy.

Go ahead, Colleen.

Q: Is the President concerned at all about McCarthy's latest concessions with -- to the conservatives on the budget and debt limit?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll start with the first. Look, again, the American people were very clear: They want us to -- they want us to govern. They want to see us continue to deliver for the American people. And that's what the -- that's what the President is calling for. That's not going to change. And we're going to continue to do that and call for that.

As it relates to the debt limit -- the debt ceiling, look, we want to be very clear. I've been very clear on this. Congress is going to need to raise the debt limit without -- without conditions. And it's that -- it's just that simple. 

Attempts to exploit the debt ceiling -- ceiling as leverage will not work. There will be no hostage-taking. The full faith and credit of our country is too im- -- is too important to allow any of that, because to default would be to force extraordinary costs on the American economy and American families. 

Let me just give you one stat that we saw from -- from a study that we saw from Moody's that found a default would wipe out nearly 6 million jobs and spike unemployment. 

So, this is Congress's basic responsibility. And again, they should be doing this without conditions. 

Q: Would the President consider any extraordinary executive action -- minting the coin, for instance -- were it to be, you know -- were Congress not to raise the limit?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we are not considering I can tell you, Josh -- we're not considering any measures that would go around Congress. That's not what we're doing. 

This is a fundamental congressional responsibility, and Congress must act. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have repeatedly raised the debt ceiling, including three times under the last President, as you've heard me say many times before. And we see -- and we believe they need to do that again.

Q: Did you -- did it come up in the call on Saturday?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any -- I don't have any specifics to read out on the call. 

Again, the President reached out directly to Speaker McCarthy to congratulate him on his win. Again, he is looking forward to working with him in good faith to deliver for the American people. That's -- that's the message that we have.

Q: Did the President or the White House invite Governor Abbott to participate in any of today's events? And if not, why aren't there any Republicans on the plane today if this is an issue that will have to be resolved in a bipartisan way?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, to your first question, Governor Abbott was invited to meet with President when he arrived, and our understanding is that he will be there. 

And so, look, we -- what we do -- and we talk about this all the time -- when the President goes to -- goes to a state, we send out invites and we reach out to the various offices to let them know that we're coming and to also invite them.

Again, we understand that Governor Abbott will be there when we arrive.

Q: Will -- you said "will be there"? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We understand that he will. That's what we understand. Right? 

And so, we -- again, you saw the President with Governor Abbott when we came down for Uvalde, and it was the same process in how we invited people with -- with the President and the First Lady for that horrific day. 

And so, we're -- we did the same again. It's the same process that we have in any state that the President visits. There's nothing different here. 

Thank you, guys. See you on the ground. 

Q: Hey Karine, are we going to hear from Jake today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I don't believe so. I don't believe so.

Q: Can we make that happen? He's on the plane.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can ask him. He's very busy. 

Q: Is there anything you want to say about -- ahead of the bilat tomorrow if we don't talk to you before then? What he -- what he wants to get from the meeting?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, what I can say is that -- all right, let me give you a little bit of what we have.

Q: Because the AMLO bilat is tomorrow.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, we're -- we are going to have a -- the President is going to have a bilat with both of -- with both the President of Mexico and also with Prime Minister Trudeau while he's in Mexico. I don't have -- I don't have the exact specifics on when that's going to happen. 

But, look, the -- President Biden, Prime Minister Trudeau, and President López Obrador -- what we expect coming out of this -- our deliverables here is to promote a common vision for North America. 

And with this visit, President Biden will follow up on last year's robust announcements with new initiatives and announcements across a broad range of issues. 

These include deepening and expanding our security cooperation to combat arms, drug, and human trafficking; redoubling efforts to address climate and environmental challenges; and taking additional steps to jointly address irregular migration in the region, including through the continued implementation of the principles outlined in the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. 

So, we'll have a full list of all of the announcements coming -- that we foresee coming out of this this trilateral summit as we're headed to -- after Texas and Mexico City. 

But again, to your answer, he will have a bilat with both the Prime Minister of Canada and also with the President of Mexico.

Thanks, everybody.

1:59 P.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359302

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