US immigration system fundamentally broken, says head of Homeland Security

Alejandro Mayorkas blames partisan politics for lack of solutions

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at an event last year. AP
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The head of the US Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday that America’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken”.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the system that he oversees needs a major overhaul.

“Our system is indeed fundamentally broken,” Mr Mayorkas said. “There is unanimity about that fact. But regrettably, we cannot seem to all agree upon a solution.”

Immigration is a hot-button issue in the US, and one that is deeply divisive and partisan. Republicans have frequently criticised President Joe Biden's administration for its handling of the immigration crisis along the southern border with Mexico.

In May, the administration ended its use of Title 42, a sweeping pandemic-era rule that allowed officials to turn away hundreds of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants at the US-Mexico border, which drew strong rebukes from Republicans who feared that ending the policy would lead to an influx of migrants.

That did not happen, Mr Mayorkas said – instead, authorities have seen a 65 per cent drop in encounters along the border.

Part of the Biden administration’s approach to the border has been to “disincentivise” people from trying to cross by raising the “evidentiary threshold” required to meet asylum standards, meaning asylum seekers must present evidence supporting a reasonable fear of persecution.

Immigration activists have criticised the new policy for making it harder for migrants to meet the new requirements.

Mr Mayorkas also criticised the US process that requires skilled immigrants to enter their names in a lottery system.

“There is no question that our immigration system is not calibrated to our economic needs,” he said.

But changing the system would require congressional approval, something Mr Mayorkas said was unlikely.

Updated: July 20, 2023, 5:51 PM