The two Biden administration officials fielded questions Tuesday from members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Wray warned about possible terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by Hamas or other bad actors, while Mayorkas had few definitive answers on the continuing chaos at the southern border.
The two men also answered questions about the growing threat of antisemitism in America since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.
1. ‘Gotaways’ at the Border
Regarding lack of security on the southern border, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., asked, “How many gotaways did CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] report in fiscal year 2023?”
“Gotaways” refers to illegal immigrants who elude Border Patrol agents rather than being caught or turning themselves in as asylum-seekers.
Mayorkas replied, “I believe, Senator, that number is over 600,000.”
But, President Joe Biden’s homeland security secretary argued that “gotaways” were a problem before he took over the agency in February 2021.
“As I’m sure you are well aware, the phenomenon of gotaways is something that has been a challenge for the Department of Homeland Security for decades,” Mayorkas said.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., pressed Mayorkas on how many illegal immigrants got into the country since Biden took office Jan. 20, 2021.
“How many people has this administration let in by encountering, processing, disbursing, or that have come in as a known or unknown gotaway?” Johnson asked.
Mayorkas wasn’t eager to answer, and instead seemed to challenge Congress to pass what liberals call comprehensive immigration reform.
“Let me say at the outset that our job would be a lot easier if the broken immigration system was fixed,” Mayorkas said.
“Mr. Secretary, I want a number. How many people have you let into this country?” Johnson responded.
Mayorkas began to reply, “I should also … ”
Apparently having had enough, Johnson told Mayorkas: “OK. I’ll give you the number. It’s about 6 million.”
2. Big Tech and Free Speech
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., pressed Wray on whether the FBI was collaborating with Big Tech to censor speech.
“Is the FBI still meeting with social media companies?” Paul asked the FBI director.
Wray responded by noting the Missouri v. Biden case pending before the Supreme Court, which has to do with collusion on content between federal agencies and Big Tech companies.
“We are having some interaction with social media companies. But all of those interactions have changed fundamentally in the wake of the court’s ruling,” Wray said.
Paul later followed by asking: “How did you change your behavior?”
Wray: “Out of an abundance of caution, in order to make sure we don’t run afoul of any court ruling. I would say, of course, the injunction has been stayed by the Supreme Court.”
Paul: “Did anybody from the FBI ever discuss constitutionally protected speech with social media organizations?”
Wray: “Not to my understanding.”
Paul then began asking about the government’s pushing the three approved COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccine advocacy, you never discussed any post regarding vaccine advocacy?” Paul asked the FBI director.
Wray denied being involved in the issue and pivoted to a research lab leak in China as the likely source of the novel coronavirus that caused COVID-19, which seemed separate from the vaccine question.
“Certainly not. To my understanding, as you know, the FBI was the first, and for a long time, the only agency in the intelligence community to assess that the COVID origin was most likely from a lab leak,” Wray said.
Paul said, “I commend you for that.”
“But the ‘Twitter Files’ and other indications, as well as Missouri v. Biden, lists many cases of both DHS and FBI discussing constitutionally protected speech, vaccine advocacy, mask advocacy,” the Kentucky Republican told the FBI director.
“People who said, ‘My brother got the vaccine and died yesterday.’ The brother actually did die, but proof of cause and effect is one thing. But taking down posts like that was part of the discussion in these [government-private sector] meetings.”
Wray doubled down on his denial with regard to pushing vaccines.
“Not by the FBI,” Wray said. “We would not have been engaging with the social media companies about vaccine efficacy, to my knowledge, certainly.”
3. ‘Historic Levels’ of Antisemitism
Wray told the Senate committee that statistics show the threat of antisemitism in the United States has increased since Hamas’ terrorist attacks in Israel, launched Oct. 7 from the Gaza Strip.
“I will say that this is a threat that is reaching in some ways sort of historic levels, in part because, as you know all too well, the Jewish community is targeted by terrorists really across the spectrum,” Wray said.
The FBI director said the FBI is viewing the “full landscape and doing our best to be proactive in this space.”
He said the FBI is conducting hate crime investigations and deploying its Joint Terrorism Task Force to stave off the threat.
“In fact, our statistics would indicate that for a group that represents only about 2.4% of the American public, they [Jewish victims] account for something like 60% of all religious-faith hate crimes,” Wray added.
Asked last week about a rise in antisemitism, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded, “Look, we have not seen any credible threats.”
Biden’s press secretary added: “But, look, Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks.”
4. ‘Extreme Rhetoric’ by DHS Employee
In what turned into a tense exchange, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asked Mayorkas about antisemitism in the Department of Homeland Security.
Nejwa Ali, a former spokeswoman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s now-defunct U.S. delegation, works for the adjudication officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of DHS. Ali was placed on paid suspension after making incendiary antisemitic posts on social media.
“What about people who say on Oct. 7, ‘F Israel—I’m cleaning up the language here—F Israel, the government and its military? Are you ready for your downfall?’” Hawley asked Mayorkas, quoting Ali.
Hawley also read a tweet from the same DHS employee as writing: ‘F— Israel and any Jew who supports Israel. May your conscience haunt your dreams until your last breath. Palestine will be free one day.”
“This is pretty extreme rhetoric, don’t you think?” the Missouri Republican asked.
“Senator, I do and I think there is a distinction between espousing or endorsing terrorist ideology and speech that is odious and does not rise to that level,” Mayorkas said.
But their agreement was short-lived.
After Hamas terrorists killed 1,400 in Israel and took over 200 as hostages, some DHS employees posted an image of a Hamas paraglider with a machine gun, which is one of the ways the terrorists entered Israel.
Hawley pointed out such social media posts.
“Is this typical of people who work at DHS? This is an asylum and immigration officer who is posting these, frankly, pro-genocidal slogans and images on the day that Israelis are being slaughtered in their beds,” Hawley said. “What have you done about this?”
Mayorkas responded by defending his department’s staff as a whole, rather than answering directly. He said he had four things to say to Hawley.
“To suggest that that is emblematic of the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security is despicable,” Mayorkas said.
Hawley responded: “I’m sorry. This person works for the Department of Homeland Security. Have you fired her?”
Mayorkas jumped in to say: “That was one of four answers.”
But Hawley didn’t let up.
“Have you fired her?” he asked again. “Israel has been invaded and Jewish students are being barricaded in libraries in this country and cannot be escorted out because they are threatened for their lives. You have employees who are celebrating genocide. And you are saying it’s despicable for me to ask the question?”
After some more back and forth, Mayorkas said, “That individual has been placed on administrative leave.”
Mayorkas said Ali was hired in 2019, but that he can’t speak about a personnel matter under review.
Hawley noted that another post on X, formerly Twitter, showed that Ali said Palestinian asylum-seekers are welcome in the U.S.
The senator asked whether she was biased against Jewish refugees or used her government position to let anyone into the United States that shouldn’t be allowed in.
“Same answer,” Mayorkas responded.
Hawley: “I think the fact that you are not willing to provide answers to this committee is atrocious.”
Mayorkas: “I am a child of a Holocaust survivor.”
“I find his adversarial tone to be entirely misplaced,” Mayorkas said to the committee as a whole, referring to Hawley. “I find it to be disrespectful of me and my heritage.”
5. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran-Backed Terrorists in US?
Both Wray and Mayorkas addressed the possibility of new terrorist attacks in the United States.
The Daily Signal recently reported that Iran’s Islamist regime has received approximately $71 billion more under Biden than it would have under his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“The ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole other level,” Wray said.
“As the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Iranians have directly, or by hiring criminals, mounted assassination attempts against dissidents and high-ranking current and former U.S. government officials, including right here on American soil,” the FBI director said. “Along those lines, Hezbollah, Iran’s primary strategic partner, has a history of seizing operatives and infrastructure, obtaining money and weapons, and spying in this country.”
The State Department designates both Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations dependent on Iran.
Wray also warned the Senate committee that the threat of a Hamas-inspired attack in the U.S. is at “a whole other level.”
“On top of the homegrown violent extremists, the domestic violent extremist threat, we cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here on our own soil,” he said. “We have kept our sights on Hamas and have multiple ongoing investigations into individuals affiliated with that foreign terrorist organization.”
In fiscal year 2023, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that 172 individuals on the nation’s terrorist watchlist were apprehended while illegally crossing the southern border.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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