Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days after attending an event with President Joe Biden, in which both men stood side by side at one point.
A spokesperson for the department said that officials had begun contact tracing following the secretary’s positive test Tuesday morning as part of normal pre-travel procedures, reports said.
“Secretary Mayorkas is experiencing only mild congestion; he is fully vaccinated and will isolate and work at home per CDC protocols and medical advice,” said DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa.
Contact tracing is underway.
— Marsha (Catron) Espinosa (@MCatronDHS) October 19, 2021
Mayorkas’ positive test and diagnosis came after he and Biden both attended the 40th Annual National Police Officers’ Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol Building on Saturday. One published photo shows Mayorkas within feet of Biden, standing alongside first lady Jill Biden, none of whom were wearing masks.
Reporters said that the extent of the contact between the two men is not clear, though Biden did mention the DHS chief during the ceremony.
“To Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, thank you for being here and for the great job you’re doing for us,” Biden noted during his remarks. “Thank you very, very much. And it’s a tough job.”
Administration officials did say that no principal White House official was determined to have been in close contact with Mayorkas; most of the recent interactions took place outside of a close contact window of 48 hours.
Mayorkas has been criticized frequently practically since being appointed to his position early in the administration. For months following Biden’s reversal of several of his predecessor’s immigration enforcement measures, the U.S.-Mexico border, at spots, has been inundated with illegal migrant traffic. DHS has reported that its agents along the border have had more than 1.5 million contacts with illegal aliens since January after Biden was inaugurated.
And while Biden’s orders have been cited by Republicans as the primary cause of the current migrant crisis, as the face of the department, Mayorkas has come in for his share of criticism as well. In July and August alone, federal border agents encountered more than 200,000 migrants, while the department has limited the use of Title 42’s public health protections to return migrants to their home countries to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Most recently, the administration has also come under fire for releasing migrants into the country’s interior, often via late-night flights, as reported this week by the New York Post.
“Planeloads of underage migrants are being flown secretly into suburban New York in an effort by President Biden’s administration to quietly resettle them across the region,” the paper reported Tuesday.
“The charter flights originate in Texas, where the ongoing border crisis has overwhelmed local immigration officials, and have been underway since at least August, according to sources familiar with the matter.”
Mayorkas has also lifted international travel restrictions on visitors from Canada and Mexico, but the administration is nonetheless requiring legal entrants to show proof of vaccination for COVID — but not migrants who cross illegally and are moved to the interior of the country.
“In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy,” Mayorkas added. “We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Travelers from those countries, however, must show proof of vaccination, the new rules state, or they will be denied entry.
Some Republicans were quick to pound on the seemingly hypocritical nature of the policy.
“That’s extremely laughable considering the border has been open to unvaccinated illegal immigrants all year,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) tweeted.
The Biden Administration is opening the southern border to “fully vaccinated” individuals next month.
That’s extremely laughable considering the border has been open to unvaccinated illegal immigrants all year.https://t.co/4eU6EdALe7
— Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (@GReschenthaler) October 13, 2021
“The Biden Administration will soon open land borders with Mexico & Canada to fully vaccinated travelers only,” Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) added. “Unvaccinated illegal immigrants are still welcome to cross at any time.”
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