Updated Mar 19, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Why the DHS chief isn't cheering its funding agreement

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at Axios' What's Next Summit. Photo: Ronald Flores

A newly struck deal to fund the Department of Homeland Security is "no cause for celebration," Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told Axios' Ina Fried at the annual What's Next Summit in Washington, DC.

Why it matters: Partisan fights over how to fund the agency tasked with the controversial job of immigration and border enforcement has threatened a government shutdown. Meanwhile, DHS agencies face massive shortfalls.

  • President Biden has considered a sweeping executive order targeting the border, as Axios has reported.
  • But when asked what could be solved through executive action, Mayorkas pointed back to Congress, saying "by administrative action, we cannot fund our department."

Driving the news: Mayorkas said that the deal struck between the White House and Congress to fund DHS and avoid a government shutdown is "no cause for celebration."

  • "It is a cause for a sigh of relief that we make it for another day. But we are terribly, terribly underfunded," he continued.
  • He described DHS as a "perennially financially starved department."

What he's saying: When asked what he would change to address the situation at the border, Mayorkas pointed Tuesday to a bipartisan border deal that met a rapid death in the Senate.

  • "We have a solution at our fingertips," he said.
  • The deal would have raised the standard for a first step in seeking asylum, expedited the entire asylum process and allowed border officials to significantly restrict access to asylum when border numbers become overwhelming.
  • By shortening the asylum process, "the risk calculus changes" for migrants asking whether to spend their life savings or put loved ones in the hands of smugglers only to risk being returned weeks later, Mayorkas said.

The big picture: Mayorkas has become Republicans' border boogeyman because of DHS's role overseeing immigration and border enforcement.

  • He became the first Cabinet member to be impeached since 1976 following the GOP-controlled House's vote last month.
  • But the agency also has numerous other critical roles — responding to natural disasters through its Federal Emergency Management Agency, monitoring U.S. shorelines through the Coast Guard and protecting top American leaders with the Secret Service.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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