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U.S. Sen. Capito questions DHS Secretary Mayorkas on border security, TSA programs, fentanyl

WASHINGTON, DC – On April 10, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the agency’s budget requests for Fiscal Year (FY) 2025.

During the hearing, Senator Capito pressed Secretary Mayorkas on cuts to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) programs at local West Virginia airports, efforts to interdict deadly fentanyl crossing the southern border, and border patrol officer recruitment, retention, and morale.This Appropriations hearing was to review the overall proposed budget of DHS.

In addition to the budget hearing, Senator Capito spoke on the Senate floor about the failures of the Biden administration when it comes to border security and immigration policy. Senator Capito also penned an op-ed for the Washington Examiner calling for a full impeachment trial of Secretary Mayorkas and joined 42 of her Senate Republican colleagues in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the subject as well.

HIGHLIGHTS:

ON CRITICAL TSA PROGRAMS BEING CUT AT WEST VIRGINIA AIRPORTS:

SEN. CAPITO: “I do want to get to this one for my seven airports that lost your TSA law enforcement reimbursement program, where all commercial- all of our seven commercial airports relied on for various law enforcement services. Small airports just aren’t able to provide this- the manpower here and obviously we were relying on this. What do you say to those airports across the country where this was cut, and now have $100-150,000… holes in their budgets to try to do this? What was the reasoning behind that? Certainly, it doesn’t sound like a safety issue. It doesn’t sound like it’s making our airports more safe?”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “With respect to the airports in your jurisdiction, I’ll have to follow up with you on that. From a fundamental policy perspective, if we had the resources, we would devote the personnel to-”

SEN. CAPITO: “Well apparently you have had the resources in the past and these were just cut this year. Our airport was notified maybe a month ago that- maybe when we passed this last [appropriations] bill that our- that their help with law enforcement agent- So that would be like if somebody’s coming through TSA and there’s a gun in a backpack found, for instance, that law enforcement agent then would come in and help the TSA do whatever the local law enforcement would be doing, and apparently we’re missing that, and it seems like a pretty critical aspect.”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “Senator, I addressed this issue last year, I believe. I am disappointed to hear that it remains an issue. I will circle back with you after I address it internally.”

ON BORDER PATROL AGENT RECRUITMENT, RETENTION, AND MORALE:

SEN. CAPITO: “I would like to know, with the significant amount of funding that you were- that you were granted, what is the number of border agents right now? Is it going up? Is it at your max? What, you’re allowed to have 21,370, I believe? So, where are you on that?”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “We are hiring actively, Senator Capito. I will have to get to you the specific number. I concur with you that it’s not just personnel that is going to solve the challenge at our southern border, which is why the bipartisan [national security supplemental] not only included additional resources, but also fundamentally needed legislative changes that would have really changed the system and the number of people we encounter in the first instance.”

SEN. CAPITO: “How’s the morale and retention? I mean, is that an issue, obviously, when you’re trying to recruit? It’s got to be.”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “Morale has been an issue in our Department of Homeland Security ever since I joined it, and well before then. We are very focused on workforce well-being and are hoping that the well-being of our treasured employees is actually strengthening and improving, despite the stresses and strains they undergo in their very difficult work.”

SEN. CAPITO: “Yeah, well, I’m assuming- I would assume that you would know whether you were close to your peak to the allowable amount of agents. I mean, are you close to that number? Are you far away? Are you losing more people than you’re gaining? Give me a sense of that.”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “We are close. We are close, but I don’t want to misspeak and cite a figure that would not be accurate to you, and I will provide that to you with swiftness.”

ON FENTANYL INTERDICTION CAPABILITIES AT THE SOUTHERN BORDER:

SEN. CAPITO: “This autonomous surveillance towers issue is something I think would be helpful if you’ve got manpower shortages, if people are coming between the ports, they obviously are. Apparently, your budget has not reflected any kind of plus-up in that area that would fortify and help us interdict in those areas. What’s your position on the autonomous surveillance towers and how helpful they have been, and would be, as force multipliers?”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “Senator, the automated surveillance towers, the ASTs, have been force multipliers. They have been effective. We are focusing, right now, our resources on the non-intrusive inspection technology, given the fact that the great majority of fentanyl that is smuggled into our country comes in through the ports of entry in commercial trucks and passenger vehicles.”

SEN. CAPITO: “I think you told me last time that the- I did ask about how many trucks were being interdicted or, I mean, inspected and you noted that 70%, but you didn’t give me an exact figure at that time, but, let’s see, what percentage of cars are actually screened for drugs coming through the ports of entry? Do you have an update on that? Or does that sound like the same figure as last year? Or has it gone up?

SEC. MAYORKAS: “I apologize, Senator, I’ll give you that data.”

SEN. CAPITO: “Okay. I’m striking out here. All right. Thank you.”

SEC. MAYORKAS: “Actually, I am [striking out].”

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