US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that the country's immigration system is “broken” during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Lindsay Graham, Alex Padilla, Jon Ossoff and Dianne Feinstein were among the committee members that peppered Mr Mayorkas with questions.
“I think rebuilding a broken immigration system and rebuilding a dismantled one takes time,” Mr Mayorkas said.
During his remarks, he lambasted former president Donald Trump's immigration policies and added that he believed the administration of President Joe Biden has taken measures on immigration that are consistent “with our values as a nation".
“We have, indeed, instituted certain practices not just along the border … that have in fact borne fruit in terms of a reduced number of encounters of migrants along the southern border,” Mr Mayorkas said.
Unauthorised border crossings were on the decline for a third consecutive month in October after large numbers of migrants arrived at the southern border in the spring and summer, government data published on Monday showed.
US Customs Border and Protection recorded more than 164,000 migrant apprehensions in October — 23 per cent fewer than in July.
The agency became the subject of controversy in September when a video surfaced showing mounted agents using long leather reins to lash at Haitian migrants attempting to cross into the US, which Mr Mayorkas said the agency will address later this week.
The agents' actions sparked widespread condemnation, with Mr Biden calling it an “embarrassment".
Mr Mayorkas told senators on Tuesday that he stands by his department despite the actions of the mounted officers.
“They do heroic work, putting their lives at risk to keep the American people safe each and every day,” Mr Mayorkas said.
“The misconduct of one does not define the heroism and integrity of the great majority of the men and women.”
The secretary added that “this Friday, we are going to be conducting a public engagement because we do not tolerate misconduct in any part of our workforce, whether that's US Customs and Border Protection or any corner of the Department of Homeland Security".
“We're going to have a public engagement this coming Friday to discuss transparency and accountability in Customs and Border Protection that is hosted by and propelled by the leadership of that agency. We take great pride in our workforce, and we will root out misconduct wherever it occurs.”
At one point, up to 12,000 Haitian immigrants had been camped at a border town near the Rio Grande in Texas, crossing the river periodically into Mexico for supplies.
More than 8,500 of the Haitian migrants have since been returned to their country, The New York Times reported, though they had originally travelled to the US to seek asylum following a presidential assassination and a devastating earthquake in their country.
The number of unauthorised Haitian migrants crossing the southern border fell last month by 90 per cent.
The Biden administration's mass deportation of the Haitian migrants was authorised under Title 42, a Trump-era policy which Mr Mayorkas stressed is a “public health imperative” and not an immigration policy.