Tackling an Evolving Threat Landscape: Homeland Security in 2023
Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas reflects on the twenty years since the Department of Homeland Security’s formation and reviews the evolving security challenges of today and tomorrow, including the steps being taken to prepare for potential threats like the swift development of artificial intelligence and rise in nation-state aggression.
BRENNAN: Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations Meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. I’m Margaret Brennan. I’m moderator of Face the Nation and I’m CBS’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. I also happen to be a member of the board of directors here at the Council on Foreign Relations. So I will be presiding later over the discussion we’ll have. But, first, Secretary Mayorkas has some remarks and he will be joining us here at the podium to deliver those. Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
MAYORKAS: Well, good morning, everybody. Margaret, thank you for the introduction and thank you for the discussion we’re going to have in just a few minutes. My thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting us, and thanks to all of you for being here. I would like to recognize two individuals, if I may, who have special meaning to our department. Our second Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff—(applause)—and former United States Congresswoman Jane Harman. (Applause.)
Reflecting on the state of our homeland security in 2023, it seemed fitting to pose a fundamental question to a generative AI model. In one sentence, describe how the homeland security threat environment has evolved over the past twenty years. We are, after all confronting a dramatically changed environment compared to the one we faced in March of 2003, one that could change even more dramatically as AI grips our imaginations and accelerates into our lives in uncharted and basically unmanaged fashion. Deeply fascinated by AI’s promise of new advances and discoveries, greatly concerned for its capacity for error and its impact on our humanity, and keenly alert to its potential for harm in the hands of an adversary, I waited only seconds for the AI model’s answer.
The homeland security threat environment has evolved from a primarily focused counterterrorism posture to a complex and diverse landscape of challenges that includes cyberattacks, domestic extremism, and the COVID-19 pandemic, among others. A straightforward answer to an important question that addresses the evolved threat landscape that our Department of Homeland Security must now confront. Its evolution is about to accelerate. Only about six months ago, engaging with an AI chatbot was reserved for a few in Silicon Valley and universities. Today about 100 million users per month are asking an AI chatbot just about anything, from recipe recommendations to requests for scientific analyses. The exponential growth of internet technology and the change it has driven has been extraordinary.
As we reflect on the state of our homeland security today, that explosive growth compels us to ask the question: What will this growth mean for our safety and security over the next twenty years? We stand at the outset of what President Biden has aptly described as a decisive decade for our world. It is the same for our homeland security. Revolutionizing technological innovations, growing political and economic instability, widening wealth inequality, a rapidly changing climate, increasingly aggressive nation-states, emerging infectious diseases, and other forces are transforming the global landscape, challenging and sometimes rendering moot a nation’s borders, and bringing national and international threats to any community’s doorstep.
Our department was founded to protect us in the wake of the tragedy and devastation inflicted by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, bringing together twenty-two agencies from across the federal government charged with the mission of securing our homeland. Back then, our country was focused on the threat of foreign terrorists who sought to enter the United States and do us harm. Over the next ten years emerged the threat of the homegrown violent extremist, the individual already resident here who was radicalized to violence by a foreign terrorist ideology. While those threats certainly persist, today lone offenders and small cells of individuals motived by a wide range of grievances and violent extremist ideologies—from white supremacy, to antisemitism, to antigovernment attitudes—pose the most persistent and lethal terrorism-related threat in the United States.
The effects of climate change have intensified. Wildfire season is no longer confined to the summer months but is now year-round. Tornadoes and named hurricanes in the United States are more frequent and more destructive. Just a few weeks ago in Mississippi, I surveyed the devastation wrought by a tornado that in twenty
seconds in its speeds up to two hundred miles per hour ripped through a small town, destroying multiple communities and taking the lives of more than twenty people.
Not for a century have we confronted the calamity of an infectious disease, as we have over the past three years. COVID-19 took more than 1 million lives here in the United States, impacted every aspect of our daily life, and forced on us a new understanding of the threat pandemic disease can pose as they spread through paths of international trade and travel.
Globally the impacts of disasters, coupled with the rise of authoritarianism, corruption, conflict, violence, and persecution have resulted in a historic displacement and migration of people around the world, and a consequent strain on immigration systems ill-equipped to address it. According to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, at the end of 2021 89.3 million people worldwide had fled their homes due to conflict, violence, fear of persecution, and human rights violations. This is the most since World War II, and more than double the number of people who remained forcibly displaced a decade ago.
Criminal organizations have capitalized on this surge. The reach and growing ruthlessness of smuggling organizations have changed how people migrate. Drug trafficking organizations have grown in sophistication and power, creating new means of manufacturing and selling death and destruction. From late 1989 through 2001, I prosecuted federal drug trafficking crimes from the trafficking of cocaine, to methamphetamine, to black tar heroin, and more. Nothing I saw then matches the scourge of fentanyl that we have confronted over the past five years—46,802 overdose deaths in 2018, 57,834 in 2020, and 71,238 in 2021.
Over that same time, those seeking to exploit the most vulnerable have taken their depravity to an unimaginable level. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the nation’s clearing house for child sexual abuse material, received over 32 million cyber tips in 2022, corresponding to more than 88 million images and videos of child sexual abuse, a roughly 75 percent increase in the last five years. Eighty-eight million images and videos of child sexual abuse.
As threats of the past have changed in form, complexity, and magnitude, so too have new threats emerged. This is perhaps nowhere more acute than in cyberspace. Some estimates that roughly 14.4 billion devices are connected as part of the Internet of Things. Everything from our home thermostats and doorbells to our electric grid and fuel pipelines. This has brought significant advances in capabilities and conveniences, but it also has dramatically increased the ways our interconnected digital world can be exploited to do us harm.
Today malicious cyber actors are capable of disrupting gasoline supplies across an entire region of our country, preventing hospitals from delivering critical care and causing disruption in some of the school systems around our country. Nation-states, like the People’s Republic of China and Russia, bend our rules-based international order and threaten our security at home, whether through cyberattacks, abuse of our trade and travel systems, or through disinformation campaigns that seek to undermine our democratic institutions. Our homeland security has converged with our broader national security.
The profound evolution in the homeland security threat environment, changing at a pace faster than ever before, has required our Department of Homeland Security to evolve along with it. We have built new institutions, modernized our approach and processes, developed new capabilities, and are harnessing innovation as we deliver critical services that are more in-demand than ever before. Our overarching strategy is one of partnership. Homeland security cannot be accomplished by government alone. It requires collective action.
To meet the threat of domestic violent extremism, we created the Center for Prevention programs and partnerships to share with local communities the best practice models of identification and intervention when an individual is exhibiting signs of moving towards violence. Through our grant programs, we are helping communities build threat prevention capabilities where previously they did not exist, responding to the reality that major metropolitan areas are no longer our adversaries’ only targets. Across the federal government, we are
working with communities impacted by unprecedented extreme weather events to strengthen their long-term recovery.
We have developed for the first time department-wide incident management teams to lead all of government responses to emergent challenges—from vaccinating millions of Americans against COVID-19 and resettling Afghan nationals in Operation Allies Welcome, to providing protection for fleeing Ukrainians in Uniting For Ukraine. We are coordinating and sharing intelligence with our partner nations and executing whole-of-government disruption and dismantlement campaigns to attack cartels. In collaboration with diaspora communities here in the United States, we are building lawful pathways so that migrants fleeing persecution can access safe and orderly avenues to obtain the humanitarian relief that our laws provide. We are working collaboratively with our partners across government at home and abroad, and with industry and academia, to manage and reduce risk to the cyber and physical infrastructure Americans rely on every single day.
We are partnering across the U.S. government to protect the most vulnerable from exploitation, whether they are migrants being trafficked by unscrupulous smugglers or children who are being abused online. Exploitation of the vulnerable. Yesterday we released the third Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, our new vision for securing the homeland. In it, we address the five major missions set forth in our two prior reviews—countering terrorism, securing our borders, administering our immigration system, securing cyberspace and critical infrastructure, and building resilience in responding to disasters. For the first time, however, we added a sixth homeland security mission set: the work of combatting crimes of exploitation, including human trafficking, child exploitation, and labor exploitation. This pivotal addition reflects the overriding importance of supporting victims and stopping the perpetrators of these abhorrent and increasingly prevalent crimes.
But what of the threats, as they could materialize tomorrow? I want to highlight new initiatives in two key areas that cut across all the department’s missions. The People’s Republic of China poses an especially grave threat to the homeland, one that, indeed, does touch all of our department’s missions. Beijing has the capability and the intent to undermine our interests at home and abroad and is leveraging every instrument of its national power to do so, from its increasingly aggressive presence in the South China Sea to the overseas police stations used to harass and intimidate dissenters. A PRC invasion of Taiwan would have profound reverberations in the homeland, putting our civilian critical infrastructure at risk of a disruptive cyberattack. We must ensure we are poised to guard against this threat today and into the future.
I have directed a ninety-day department-wide sprint to assess how the threats posed by the PRC will evolve, and how we can be best positioned to guard against future manifestations of this threat. One critical area we will assess, for example, involves the defense of our critical infrastructure against PRC or PRC-sponsored attacks designed to disrupt or degrade provision of national critical functions, sow discord and panic, and prevent mobilization of U.S. military capabilities.
Another area of assessment will involve how we can bolster our screening and vetting to identify illicit travelers from the PRC who exploit our lawful immigration and travel systems to collect intelligence, steal intellectual property, and harass dissidents, while still we must facilitate lawful travel. Informed by engagements with subject matter experts and our stakeholders, we will take immediate action to drive down risk, lay the foundation for ongoing public-private collaboration, and work with Congress to ensure we continue to invest in these vital capabilities.
Next, and returning to where I began, we must address the many ways in which artificial intelligence will drastically alter the threat landscape and augment the arsenal of tools we possess to succeed in the face of these threats. Our department will lead in the responsible use of AI to secure the homeland, and to defending against the malicious use of this transformational technology. As we do this, we will ensure that our use of AI is rigorously tested to avoid bias and disparate impact and is clearly explainable to the people we serve.
I recently asked our Homeland Security Advisory Council, Co-chair Jamie Gorelick is here, to study the intersection of AI and homeland security and deliver findings that will help guide our use of it and defense against it. The rapid pace of technological change, the pivotal moment we are now in, requires that we also act today. To that end, I am directing the creation of our department’s first Artificial Intelligence Task Force that will drive specific applications of AI to advance our critical homeland security missions. The task force will, for example, integrate AI into our effort to enhance the integrity of our supply chains and the broader trade environment.
We will seek to deploy AI to more ably screen cargo, identify the importation of goods produced with forced labor, and manage risk. The task force will also, among other charges, leverage AI to counter the flow of fentanyl into the United States. We will explore using this technology to better detect fentanyl shipments, identify and interdict the flow of precursor chemicals around the world, and target for disruption key nodes in the criminal networks.
Countering the multifaced threat posed by the PRC, learning from major cyber incidents, and harnessing the power of AI to advance our security will draw on the entirety of the capabilities and expertise the 260,000 personnel of DHS bring to bear every single day. It will require continued investment in our operational cohesion, our ability to work together in ways our founders never imagined. We must never allow—we must never allow ourselves to be susceptible to failures of imagination, which, as the 9/11 Commission concluded nearly twenty years ago, held us back from connecting the dots and preparing for the destruction that was being planned on that tragic day. We must instead look to the future and imagine the otherwise unimaginable to ensure that whatever threats we face, our department, our country, will be positioned to meet the moment.
It is an especially challenging imperative to fill at a time not only of rapid change, but also of acute political divisiveness. When issues of homeland security that traditionally were unifying no longer are so, and when our adversaries continue to exploit innovations designed to bring us closer together, like social media, to in fact push us apart. We must imagine a world where even more potent and lethal synthetic opioids or infectious diseases plague our communities, where an earthquake or catastrophic storm intensifies already historic levels of migration in our hemisphere, where criminals 3-D print weapons or modify consumer technologies like drones to evade law enforcement, where cyber criminals are emboldened to the point of holding for ransom the critical services of an entire city.
At the Department of Homeland Security, we have the tools and talent to meet the moment today. We are taking the actions and making the investments to ensure we will continue to adapt and meet the moment into the future. We are more fit for purpose than at any time in our twenty-year history. This is a collective effort. We must all come together in this country in the service of our homeland security. We must call upon our collective imagination, our commitment to a better future, and our fundamental love of country that binds us together to protect our homeland. Thank you. (Applause.)
BRENNAN: Thank you. And thank you, Mr. Secretary. First of all, you've had an eventful week. So thank you for spending this morning with us.
MAYORKAS: I am actually looking forward to the opportunity to answer a question. (Laughter, applause.)
BRENNAN: And just a reminder, the meeting is on the record.
So, Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you a number—(laughs)—
MAYORKAS: Thank you all for—(laughter)—
BRENNAN: I want to get into the substance of a lot of the things you just laid out here. And I do want to get to the border as well, before we take questions from those here today. But first of all, you talked about trying to
bring together the country. And that's kind of where I want to start. It seems like the past few weeks have been fairly horrific. You have a mass shooting in Alabama, thirty-two people. You have a twelve-year-old, who was just gunned down in Hartford, Connecticut, along with others. You have a six-year-old girl shot in North Carolina along with her parents when her ball went into the neighbor's yard. We have shooting upon shooting, and it just feels like it's a constant toxic headline about neighborhoods becoming killing fields. And I wonder how you think about that in the context of homeland security. What's happening in our country?
MAYORKAS: So Margaret, thank you for the opportunity. So I will say this, you know, a mass shooting is defined as one that victimizes four or more individuals. We have had more mass shootings in this country in 2023 than we've had days of the year. Our role in addressing targeted violence, whatever the motive, is to fund communities, to equip and empower them to identify when an individual is descending down a path to violence, and understand what to do.
(Audio break)—my mind, that speaks to the abandoned backpack by a bench or in the airport. It doesn't speak to a family member, a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, a faith leader who observes somebody who is exhibiting signs of really having trouble, and expressing interest in a violent act. And we as a community have to get involved, and have to engage, and understand how to communicate an analogous call to action when it involves something like that.
On the issue of violence writ large, this is a much broader question than just our department. It's an issue of our gun culture. The prevalence and ease of accessing military-style weapons. It's a combination of multiple factors.
BRENNAN: It’s a lot.
MAYORKAS: It's a lot. And by the way—
BRENNAN: That’s a lot, frankly, for—
MAYORKAS: —in my international engagements—in my international engagements, there are two questions that almost every single time are posed of me about our country. One is the political divide, because a divide speaks of a chasm. And a chasm is an opportunity for someone else to fill it. And our adversaries are eager to fill it with disinformation and other pernicious acts, number one. And, number two, they ask about guns and the number of killings in our country. And it is incomprehensible to them.
BRENNAN: It is. And I want to move on to foreign adversaries as well. I just wanted to make sure we noted what's happening right now. You talked a little bit about threats to the homeland, and specifically, this ninety-day threat assessment of the risk posed by Beijing. So exactly how embedded are they at this point in America's critical infrastructure? How vulnerable is it? And when you are looking at the threat assessment, are you looking in the scenario of planning for a war?
MAYORKAS: Well, I would say the following. We have four adverse nation-states that are very focused on targeting the United States. The PRC, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. They have—since I last served as the deputy secretary, their capabilities have only advanced in the realm of cybersecurity. They are focused on our on our critical infrastructure. They are focused on the American public and disseminating disinformation to misguide human behavior, to the detriment.
MAYORKAS: The COVID-19 pandemic and what its origins were. The Russian unprovoked war against Ukraine, and what is the factual premise of that. Our elections, our government leaders, and what they are about and what they're not about. It is widespread and pernicious. The PRC is focused on our intellectual property. They produce goods that are manufactured by exploited labor. And it is our responsibility to ensure, under the
law, that no good produced by forced labor in whole or in part enters the United States. We are involved in every aspect of the threat that I have just identified.
BRENNAN: But are you planning for the event of war here? Because some of what you laid out, including an attack on America's critical infrastructure, could be understood as exactly that. That's an incredibly aggressive action.
MAYORKAS: That is an incredibly aggressive action. And I'm not sure I’d frame it in the context of war. I haven't applied that necessarily terminology. But I don't think our actions vary however one frames the issue. We are focused intensely on defending our critical infrastructure through our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. So I think of it in terms of an attack. Whether the attack is in the context of war or day-to-day aggression, I think our defenses and our actions remain the same.
BRENNAN: The FBI director said that they open a new investigation into Chinese counterintelligence every ten hours, and half of their counter investigations are related to China. How significant right now is the PRC’s exploitation of things like the immigration system?
MAYORKAS: One of the things that we are very focused on with respect to immigration, in particular—and I referenced it in my remarks—is what we call non-traditional collection. Where individuals, they will seek to abuse the student visa program, other lawful means of coming to the United States. Individuals with intent to collect information against us seek to exploit our lawful avenues.
BRENNAN: But is there—is there a metric like that? I mean, how do you put a number on how significant the threat is? If there's a counterintelligence investigation opened every ten hours, how significant would you put it?
MAYORKAS: I have to tell you, we consider it extraordinarily significant when we identify and prevent one individual from seeking our sensitive information—including from our academic institutions that are doing, you know, extraordinarily important work in a public-private partnership. The frequency of the threat to which you refer, Margaret, I think is a reflection of the magnitude of the threat, the keenness and focus of the PRC’s interest in adversity, and our incredible need for a tireless vigilance.
BRENNAN: The Treasury secretary said yesterday that the administration is considering restricting U.S. investment in sensitive technologies with significant national security implications. I know you're concerned about TikTok, but specifically on this issue of technology what concerns you? Where do you fit into that conversation within the administration?
MAYORKAS: Well, we are a critical partner of the Committee on Foreign investment in the U.S, the CFIUS committee. We are deeply concerned about PRC-owned and -operated infrastructure, elements of infrastructure, and what that control can mean given that the operator and owner has adverse interests. So whether it's investment in our ports, whether it is investment in partner nations’ telecommunications channels and the like. It's a myriad of threats. And I have to say, and allow me to emphasize, that borders—physical borders are not necessarily dispositive when it comes to the geography of the threat and its potential impact on the United States.
BRENNAN: What do you mean by that?
MAYORKAS: Take cyberspace. Borders are irrelevant. We can have an—we have had an individual in—well, maybe not this specifically—but an individual in pajamas at the age of twenty-two across the world, in the basement of the family home, can do incredible harm to the United States.
BRENNAN: But at the end of this ninety-day review, are you going to be putting forward recommendations on restrictions and new policies?
MAYORKAS: Well, so let me break that down.
BRENNAN: Because it seems like the rhetoric is changing and getting more aggressive from the administration specifically on this?
MAYORKAS: So I would say the following. First of all, allow me to emphasize that the work is not beginning now. We've been doing this work since many years prior.
BRENNAN: The review of TikTok has been going on for years.
MAYORKAS: So that is a legal process. (Laughter.) So that is a legal process. And I think we all know—
BRENNAN: Will that come to conclusion before 2024 elections?
MAYORKAS: I don't use the elections as a particular threshold moment for addressing homeland security threats. But let me say that I think that the focus and intensity of our work, in countering adverse nation-states is only intensifying. And regrettably, their interest in doing us harm is only intensifying. So it's a correlative effort.
BRENNAN: I want to ask you about the border as well. You said in testimony this week that there is expected to be a surge, that was the word you used, of migrants after Title 42 expires on May 11. A CBP official put that number at, worst case between, eleven (thousand) and thirteen thousand people, if no action is taken after May 11. So how do people think of what is about to happen? What planning are you putting in place in these coming days?
MAYORKAS: So let me take a step back. And Title 42 allows us—which is a public health authority, not an immigration authority, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Title 42 allows us to expel an individual, essentially turn them around—turn them around, without permitting them to make a claim for asylum—to turn them around very, very quickly. But it does not create an immigration enforcement record. It is not formally a removal from the United States. It's an expulsion. And what that means is that when one is removed, one has a five-year bar from admission into the United States. When one is expelled, one can try over and over again.
So when we speak of, for example, 2.3 million encounters in a single year, that is not 2.3 million unique individuals whom we encounter. That is 2.3 million encounters. There's a great deal of recidivism. So while the expulsion is very facilitating in terms of speed, it is actually not delivering a consequence. So we have been planning since September of ’21—because we've tried to end Title 42 previously and been blocked by the courts. We've been planning since September ’21 for the end of 42. We refreshed our six-pillar plan, surging resources, driving new efficiencies, using Title 8, our immigration authorities, expedited removal, attacking the cartels, working with nonprofit organizations to increase our reception capabilities.
Working with our international partners because it's critical that they extend humanitarian relief under their laws and that they enforce their borders. Because we do have some countries that are transit countries, where they—because of the strain on their system—they facilitate the movement north. We've been doing all of that. I think we're going to be unveiling some new efforts over the coming days. Our fundamental model is as follows. Because one has to understand that one cannot deter one's way through a migration challenge because it's relative. One has to understand the level of desperation a parent feels when they are willing to send their child in the hands of smugglers to try to traverse a country or multiple countries, only to encounter the challenge of the southern border of the United States.
So the level of desperation would suggest that whatever deterrence we could impose, whether it's a facility or otherwise, will not work alone. And so our model is as follows: Build lawful pathways, cut out the smugglers who exploit these vulnerable individuals. Build lawful pathways. Give individuals an opportunity to reach the United States safely, in an orderly way, to avail themselves of the humanitarian relief our laws provide. And
then deliver a consequence for those who do not avail themselves of those lawful pathways. It has worked extraordinarily well.
BRENNAN: Border crossings ticked up 25 percent from February to March, according to agency data.
MAYORKAS: Yes, and I'll explain that. On January 5th, we implemented a program built on that paradigm. For Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, we developed a parole program. Up to thirty thousand could come to the United States per month, and then we would deliver a consequence for those who did not—who arrived in our southern border. We saw a 95 percent drop in the number of individuals from those four nationalities at our southern border. And the—
BRENNAN: You are moving into what is traditionally migration season where movement picks up typically. So is that thirteen thousand number your worst case scenario? Do you agree with CBP?
MAYORKAS: No, I think what—well, I don't disagree. I think what Troy Miller, our acting commissioner, was speaking of is estimates that could materialize for which we have to be planning. That is—we have to plan for different eventualities. When you speak of a 25 percent increase, what we've seen—and there are reasons for this—is an uptick in the number of Venezuelans this month over last. But if you compare March of 2023 to March of 2022, you will still see a reduction.
BRENNAN: So you are working on a number of things still, as I understand it, in terms of the understanding with Mexico, with expulsions.
BRENNAN: You also have to make a decision, according to the Washington Post, about whether to detain families.
MAYORKAS: No decision has been made.
BRENNAN: When will that decision be made? I know you ended the practice in 2021. How important is it? I know you said deterrence isn't enough, but how you explain this matters.
MAYORKAS: So let me just make clear that deterrence alone will not solve the challenge of migration. With respect to the United States, with respect to any country in the world that is experiencing it. And I have to tell you, it is gripping the entire hemisphere. Colombia is host to 2.5 million Venezuelans. Venezuela has seen the emigration of about 8 percent—20 percent of its population. I think it is a population of 28, 30 million people. More than 8 million have left. So this is gripping the hemisphere. We are going to be making decisions in the coming days.
BRENNAN: Is that your decision? I imagine it's sitting with the president still being weighed.
MAYORKAS: So I won't talk about the deliberative process. But we, as a government, are responsible for the decisions that we make. We work as one team.
BRENNAN: Yeah. There are estimates that six hundred thousand migrants evaded agents last year and entered the U.S. illegally. So when you're talking about use of technology and looking at that, you're already using drones. What kind of technology helps reduce those who do slip through the net of the Border Patrol agents?
MAYORKAS: So we use towers that provide just—they are a force multiplier in terms of the visibility that they give agents to canvass a significant swath of land. Let me share something about the six hundred thousand got
aways. That’s how it's—that's how it's termed. What is the metric of success when one speaks of—or, of progress, or status, when one speaks of the security of the border? I would think that a reasonable metric would be what percentage of the people who attempt to cross the border are we apprehending? If one takes the number of apprehensions, one takes the number of got always, adds those together, what percentage of that aggregate, as the denominator, is the numerator of apprehensions?
BRENNAN: But you are looking to reduce the got aways?
MAYORKAS: Oh, absolutely.
BRENNAN: So what’s the answer to that?
MAYORKAS: That’s in every—well, if you take a look at our apprehension rate, in 2023 it was higher than, I believe, two years in the prior administration. And we have been pretty consistent in our apprehension rate over the past seven, eight years. Our apprehension rate is close to 80 percent. It was lower—I don't recall whether it's 2019, 2020, I think it was 71, 74 percent. But it's basically—in one year in the prior administration, it was higher, was in the eights. It's been pretty consistent.
And to me, that is the—that is a reasonable metric of evaluating how our enforcement efforts are working. Our rate of apprehension. We have surged more Border Patrol agents and other officers to the border. We are using more technology than ever before. We are maximizing the resources that we have to achieve the most effective results. It is our hope that we are funded at the level we need to be. The talk of taking our budget and reducing it to a prior level will harm our border security efforts, our efforts to battle the PRC, our efforts to battle online child sexual exploitation, everything about which I spoke.
BRENNAN: When you testified to Congress last month, you said you were looking at AI as a potential force multiplier for Border Patrol agents. I imagine, to address all of these issues. So do you have a metric yet of the success rate? Or are these just tabletop exercises at this point?
MAYORKAS: When you're speaking of AI?
MAYORKAS: Oh, I think we're at a nascent stage of really deploying AI. I think we're now at the dawn of a new age, not a phrase I coined by the way. Dimitri Kusnezov here, our undersecretary for the Office of Science and Technology, Eric Hysen who is wearing two hats as our chief information officer, they are going to be leading our task force on the use of AI.
BRENNAN: You said it was to deal with mundane tasks, so that the Border Patrol agents aren't tied up with it.
MAYORKAS: Oh, I—but that's one that's one use, and a very pivotal use. But I think that we—the task force cannot be restricted to—I wouldn't use the mundane, I would use the daily critical work. I think we just have to open—widen that aperture, speak with other experts in this room and elsewhere about what is the—how does one define the aperture? We shouldn't do it unilaterally. We have to reimagine.
BRENNAN: But when you look at who, essentially, the adversary is when you're talking about cartels, who are trafficking humans.
BRENNAN: How—because I know when you've been on my program in the past, you've talked about how sophisticated the technology has gotten in terms of evading agents.
BRENNAN: Where are the cartels in terms of that level of sophistication and us matching it? I'm thinking of that—when you were on with me, and fifty-three migrants had just died in the back of a tractor trailer in San Antonio. And they got through the border without being detected.
MAYORKAS: So, Margaret, two thoughts. One, that speaks to the depravity of the traffickers. They don't care about people's lives. And, two, it speaks to the criticality of the $305 million in funding that we are seeking in fiscal year 2024 to purchase more non-intrusive inspection technology, so that we can actually get to the point of screening 100 percent of the trailers, the trucks, the passenger vehicles that come through our border. We are not at 100 percent. We have increased our volume materially over the past several years. But we are not at 100 percent. That's why continued investment is so critical.
BRENNAN: I want to make sure that we get to some of the questions from our members, who are invited right now to ask them. This is on the record. We started a little late, so if you're watching the clock, I'm making up the time. So here, do you want to start here? I think there are microphones to be run around. This gentleman here in the third row.
Q: Yes. To what extent is the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment a lure for people to cross the border illegally? And if so, is there anything that can be done about it, like a reinterpretation, so that at least one parent must be a citizen or lawful resident alien?
MAYORKAS: So the citizenship clause, meaning—what do you mean? The fact of—the birthright citizenship? I don't—you know, this is my immediate reaction to the question is, I don't think that a parent who cannot send his or her daughter to school safely in the morning or is concerned about their son’s ability to live—to live—if they choose not to join a gang, is thinking of actually coming to the United States for the purpose of having another child so that child could become a U.S. citizen.
BRENNAN: In the front row, of Jane Harman, here.
MAYORKAS: Desperation. Desperation is the greatest catalyst for the migration that we are seeing.
Q: On 9/11, I was serving in Congress. I co-chaired—co-chaired, this was a Republican-majority Congress—a subcommittee on terrorism of the Intelligence Committee with Saxby Chambliss, who went on to become a senator. The rhetoric around 9/11 was: America is under attack. On the night of 9/11, 150-plus members of Congress assembled on the steps of the Capitol, which had just been reopened, and sang, God Bless America. No one was talking about, gee, it's the Democrats’ fault, it's the Republicans’ fault. And when we enacted legislation following 9/11, including standing up your department, creating the Director of National Intelligence, and a variety of other things, the votes were bipartisan.
Twenty-two years later, forget about it. And the demonizing of you personally is, to me, shocking and totally unproductive. But my question is, thought experiment: Imagine if Chuck Schumer and Kevin McCarthy came to visit you. Imagine, thought experiment. And asked you: What are a few things that Congress could do productively—in addition to adding some funding that you mentioned—productively, to make our homeland effort more effective? What would those few things be?
MAYORKAS: So the first thing that comes to mind, Jane, is the fact that they already had done something, which is they had come together to speak with the secretary of Homeland Security about what could be done for the wellbeing of our homeland. So that would be mission one, accomplished.
Immigration reform. The system is so broken. Everyone agrees about it. And yet we can't seem to come together to fix it. Reauthorizing our counter-UAS, our counter-drone authorities. The use of drones, their speed, their capacity for payloads, the distance they can travel, their sophistication in terms of their visibility, we have got to have that authority reauthorized. We should authorize our Cyber Safety Review Board, an extraordinary development over the last year. It should be codified. Our Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office needs to be reauthorized.
We need to be funded to protect the homeland. You know, every single year since 2006 we have relied on the National Guard to supplement our personnel at the border—every single year. We need to be self-sustaining. We need to take a look—we need to take a look at the Department of Homeland Security's imperatives and not view it through the lens of politics, but view it through the lens of security. We all came together as a country after 9/11. We failed to come together as a country after individuals broke into our Capitol and were screaming words of killing both the speaker and our vice president.
BRENNAN: Republican leadership has said they're supportive of the idea of dealing with the border, which seems to be separated from immigration, that you just talked about. So are you more optimistic that you will get something on that narrower framing from this Congress?
MAYORKAS: I am an unrelenting optimist. But I will share with you the following, that what was articulated this week is that we cannot fix—you know, we cannot fix our immigration system. The fact that we have ten to 11 million vacant jobs, we have an incredible supply of labor, and we're not marrying the two. We will not fix something like that until you secure the border. And my view of that is it is a remarkable formula that one is holding the solution hostage until one fixes the problem. That's just an interesting mathematical equation to me. (Laughter.)
BRENNAN: OK. Can we have here in the second row, and then in the back row a young lady has her hand up, I think, in that last row.
Q: Thank you. Alan Raul from the law firm Sidley Austin.
Secretary Mayorkas, going back to artificial intelligence, in your remarks you talked about the tremendous promise that artificial intelligence offers for the key missions of the department, including cybersecurity and others. You talked about the need for transparency and explainability. There are some challenges to artificial intelligence as well, explainability. Mr. Kissinger and Eric Schmidt wrote in the Wall Street Journal a fabulous piece about perhaps lack of explainability; some of the technologists have said that as well, that they don’t really know how the magic works. Elon Musk and others have written a letter about the peril to civilization that they see in artificial intelligence, along with its tremendous promise. Will your task force, will your department, in addition to looking how to deploy artificial intelligence to help make our country more secure, look at some of these metaphysical issues, along with the mundane, about the challenges of understanding and what it really means for civilization? Is that a homeland security issue that your department, your task force will also consider?
MAYORKAS: So I think, given our to-do list—I will say that the Economist, its latest edition addresses AI quite extensively. I haven’t yet cracked it. But given our to-do list, I think I’m going to leave the metaphysics to somebody else. I think we’re going to be operational.
BRENNAN: In that back row, please.
Q: Hello, Secretary, my name is Alejandra (sp); I’m a reporter for EFE, a Spanish news agency.
So you mentioned, in regards to immigration after May 11, you mentioned deterrence and you also mentioned there’s going to be more consequences for people who cross between ports of entry, but you also mentioned
desperation, that that’s the greatest catalyst for migration. Don’t you think these two—three things paired together are going to be putting migrants at bigger risks that people who want to come to the U.S. are going to be drived (sic) towards more risky situations, especially given what happened in Mexico with the fire that killed more than thirty people in Juárez? And the second thing is, Bob Menendez proposed using the parole to be able to solve what you also mentioned, that is great need for labor in the country and be using that for more people to come in, more migration. What do you say to that? Thank you so much.
MAYORKAS: Thank you so much. I spoke to one of your colleagues from EFE in Panama just last week as we negotiated a trilateral agreement with Panama and Colombia to address the security of the border between those two countries and the fact that too many people are risking their lives and frankly losing their lives or suffering trauma, even should they survive, when they enter the Darién. I think it is a humanitarian obligation to prevent individuals from taking that journey in the hands of smugglers. So I do not think that our approach actually drives a greater risk. It is—when I speak of lawful pathways and of consequence for those who do not avail themselves, there’s a predicate to that, and the predicate is that the lawful pathways are meaningful, they’re accessible, they’re real, as they have been in the parole program that we announced and implemented on the 5th of January.
The parole program, the discretionary authority that I have, is based on two independent foundations: one is an urgent humanitarian reason and the other is a significant public benefit. We’ve exercised that authority prudently and effectively. The parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans is working. The clamor that we hear to reduce the number of encounters at our Southern border, we met that objective with respect to those four populations through our programs. And nevertheless, our parole authority with respect to those successful programs is being challenged in a court in Texas. So our parole authority and its ability to serve the public benefit to address urgent humanitarian needs is actually being challenged.
BRENNAN: Can we have this gentleman here with the violet shirt and then the young lady in the back on this side of the room?
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. It’s Jim Freis.
I wanted to ask you about something you’ve not talked about and that’s financial intelligence and particularly looking back when you were at CIS, when I was at Treasury, FinCEN, we had built upon capacity building with Mexico, but it was always an issue in terms of corruption, whether we could trust them, but we finally were able to have a breakthrough in looking at the way money moves. You talked about immigration, but of course we know that, whether it’s narcotics, whether it’s guns moving across the border, whether it’s trade-based money laundering, money’s always another side of those flows. And I fear that some of the aspects—we were able to actually have the Mexican government change ways, the use of the dollar to distinguish between illicit flows and legal flows that we wanted to let flourish. I fear that that went away in the last administration, but can you talk a little bit about that aspect of partnership and how integral you view that for DHS today?
MAYORKAS: So, you know, the maxim “follow the money” is critical. You know, when I first started as a prosecutor in 1989, my first series of cases were actually on asset forfeiture. The instruments, the property, the finances that were used to fund or facilitate the underlying illegal activity or the companion legal activity or the proceeds of that illegal activity—I have to tell you, I addressed some defendants who didn’t seem to blink an eye with doing a few years in custody, but when one took all their money away, it was a huge, huge deal. (Laughter.) We are so focused on this—and by the way, that landscape, speaking of an evolution in the threat landscape, cryptocurrency has, you know, revolutionized our work in that regard. We are intensely focused on the financial aspects of criminal and adverse behavior. And one of the greatest advances I think that has occurred within the Department of Homeland Security is the maturation of homeland security investigations within Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a really premier investigative law enforcement agency. So we are very focused on that, not just domestically with respect to property and, you know, proceeds, facilitation of criminal activity here with a connectivity across the border or abroad, but we are working with our partner
nations very extensively. Rob Silvers is here, our undersecretary for strategy, policy, and plans, leading our international efforts. This is uppermost in our mind. And we have a great partnership with Mexico in that regard and we have our transnational criminal investigative units, TCIUs, to work in partnership to address not just the movement of the controlled substances or the people but also the instrumentalities of their criminality.
BRENNAN: We are running out of time here, so if you could keep your question very quick, and we will conclude.
Q: Hi. I’m Rebecca (sp) with the Hill.
I wanted to ask you about your appearances before Congress this week on a more personal level. Republicans are increasingly commenting on your personal character during these hearings. I was curious how you feel about those comments and what’s going through your mind during some of these exchanges. (Laughter.)
MAYORKAS: Well, I would say—
BRENNAN: This is on the record. (Laughter.)
MAYORKAS: Yeah. You know, they are not easy to listen to. They also have ramifications that I wish individuals in positions of leadership would consider because our work is about people and it’s about the people doing the work, the people affected by the work, about our institutions, our norms, our definition as a country of values and principles. I am fundamentally—fundamentally, though, I’m impervious to them because I may make some mistakes, but—you know, my decisions may be mistaken, some may disagree with them, but I have 100 percent confidence in the integrity of my decision making. (Applause.)
BRENNAN: So thank you. I think that’s a good note to end on. Thank you, Secretary Mayorkas.
And please note that the video and the transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on the Council’s website. Thank you all.
MAYORKAS: Thank you, Margaret.
BRENNAN: Thank you.
MAYORKAS: Thank you all.