Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Tuesday took aim at Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over a new report which detailed a surge in migrant child smuggling and exploitation during the Biden administration — with the Republican lawmaker suggesting that it amounted to an impeachable offense.
Hawley, at a Senate Homeland Security hearing, quizzed Mayorkas about a New York Times report showing how the 2021 migration surge resulted in many children being placed in brutal forced labor jobs across the U.S.
The Times reported this week that staffers in the administration had ignored signs of “explosive” growth in child labor as more than 250,000 unaccompanied migrant children entered the U.S. in the past two years. A number have been forced into indentured servitude to pay back smugglers.
When unaccompanied child migrants are encountered at the southern border, they are transferred from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody to Health and Human Services (HHS) care, who will then attempt to unite them with a sponsor in the U.S. – typically a family member. Labor laws, meanwhile, are enforced by the Department of Labor.
Hawley tied the increase in child migration across the border to a move by the Biden administration in early 2021 to not apply Title 42 expulsions to unaccompanied children.
“Under the last administration, children were reunited with their families in their home country. You changed that. And as soon as you changed it, the numbers exploded. That is your responsibility,” Hawley said.
Mayorkas said there were a number of “false statements” in Hawley’s questioning.
“One of the significant policy decisions that we have made is to focus our worksite enforcement, investigative efforts, our criminal investigative efforts on unscrupulous employers that exploit individuals because of their vulnerabilities. And that includes underage workers,” Mayorkas said.
Hawley was unimpressed, saying that the administration “has done nothing but facilitate this crisis,” and accused Mayorkas of pressuring officials to skip vetting processes and release minors to sponsors quickly. He also referenced efforts in the House by Republicans to impeach the DHS chief.
“You have, at every stage facilitated this modern-day indentured servitude of minor children. Why should you not be impeached for this?” he said.
Mayorkas responded: “I look forward to discussing this issue further because you are misstating the facts so terribly.”
Mayorkas also objected to Hawley’s statement that the Trump administration reunited children with their parents — an apparent reference to the controversy surrounding child separation within the U.S.
“Senator, what we do is we enforce the law. But let me just say this. You’re not — it is stunning to me stunning to hear you say that the prior administration reunited children with their parents,” he said.
Hawley cut him off and criticized him for mentioning the prior administration.
“A moment ago you were crowing about the fact that you treated children so well, and yet we find tens of thousands of children who are forced to work as slaves because of your policies and you turn around and blame a prior administration,” he said.
He then also reiterated growing Republican calls for his removal from office.
You should have resigned long ago. And if you cannot change course, you should be removed from office,” he said.
Hawley’s remarks came after Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, had also blasted Mayorkas and introduced a motion for a vote of no confidence in Mayorkas.
DHS responded to that move by reiterating calls for Congress to fix the “broken” immigration system the administration believes is responsible for the crisis.
“Secretary Mayorkas is proud to advance the noble mission of this Department, support its extraordinary workforce, and serve the American people. The Department will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border, protect the nation from terrorism, improve our cybersecurity, all while building a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system. Instead of pointing fingers and pursuing baseless attacks, Congress should work with the Department and pass legislation to fix our broken immigration system, which has not been updated in over 40 years.” a spokesperson said on Tuesday.