The federal government has no evidence of an imminent plot by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to infiltrate the United States by sending operatives across the southern border, a top Obama administration official said Tuesday.
“There is no credible information that there is an active plot to traverse the southwest border now," Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Top Republicans and conservative media outlets have repeatedly warned that ISIS could cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Francis Taylor, another official with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told members of Congress last week there has been social media chatter among ISIS followers about a potential border crossing, but the group poses no imminent threat to targets within the U.S.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), and others have urged the Obama administration to review its border policies to ensure that ISIS fighters cannot sneak across the border.
Mayorkas said that DHS is "very vigilant in terms of our nation’s security whether that be by land, by sea or by air.”
"Premature" to declare migrant crisis over
Over the summer, Washington went into crisis mode when tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America were caught entering the U.S. illegally.
Recent statistics show a steep drop in unaccompanied children being apprehended at the southwest border, but Mayorkas said that it's too early to declare the crisis over.
“It would be premature at best to declare victory, to say that the problem is behind us because we don't know," he told reporters. "What we have achieved is tremendous progress."
Mayorkas credited the U.S. government's efforts to stem the flow of children and adults from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in recent months, as well as Mexico's stepped up efforts to detain and deport migrants from Central America.
But he noted extreme heat in July and August could have played a major role in the drop in apprehensions. If there is an uptick in migrants coming to the border when the weather cools, the administration will be better prepared to handle it, Mayorkas said.
In August, Border Patrol took into custody 3,141 unaccompanied Central American children, the lowest number of any month this year. Between last October and the end of August, over 66,000 unaccompanied kids have been caught by U.S. authorities.
Mayorkas said that short-term efforts helped reduce the number of kids traveling north, including a crackdown on smuggling rings and a media campaign to discourage illegal immigration. But he said the only way to prevent future mass migration from Central America is to improve economic and security conditions in the children's home countries.
“Victory is accomplished when … children do not have to flee seeking relief and refuge elsewhere," he said.
Providing aid to countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is key, Mayorkas said, even if the results aren't immediately apparent.
"We will not see [success] in days and weeks," he said. "That is a long-term process. We understand that and we invest accordingly.”
The government must also still handle kids and adults who have already crossed the border and are awaiting an immigration hearing. Mayorkas said that his agency is working to improve conditions at family detention facilities that have recently opened to house migrants.
Immigrant-rights advocates have called the facilities inhumane. There have been reports of unclean conditions and lack of access to legal assistance at a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico.
Mayorkas said that his agency has responded "aggressively" and with "tremendous vigilance" when advocacy groups have "identified instances where we have not provided as we should for the care and needs of those families."
President Obama delayed executive action on deportation relief amid the influx of migrants from Central America. But Mayorkas reiterated the president plans to take action by the end of the year.
“He has delayed that action to ensure that the action he takes is sustainable," Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas said officials are still reviewing possible options, but stressed it is legal for the president to grant temporary deportation relief to undocumented immigrants, citing an existing program that allows young undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S.
“Lawful presence is something that can be accomplished through executive action," he said.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.