Republicans probe DHS Secretary Mayorkas over role in housing migrants on federal lands

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FIRST ON FOX: House Republican leaders on the Natural Resources Committee are probing the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) role in placing migrants on federal lands in New York.

In a letter sent Monday to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who chairs the panel’s oversight subcommittee, cited interviews they conducted with federal officials who confirmed DHS’s involvement in the decision to house migrants at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Floyd Bennett Field, managed by the National Park Service (NPS).

While DHS, according to the letter, intervened to ensure Floyd Bennett Field, in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, would be leased to the local government for migrant housing, the land is managed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and NPS. In one interview, a senior DOI official told congressional investigators that they “did what DHS asked us to do” when they moved forward with the plan last year.

“The Committee is deeply concerned with the Biden administration leasing NPS land for use as a migrant encampment, a use that is not only inconsistent with the National Park Service Organic Act, but publicly recognized as legally perilous by DOI,” Westerman and Gosar wrote to Mayorkas. 

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House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, left, and Rep. Paul Gosar, the top GOP member of the panel’s oversight subcommittee (Getty Images)

“Moreover, the Committee is concerned with the role DHS played in the process, particularly as you described it in the letters to Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul and as described to Committee staff by DOI and NPS officials,” the Republican lawmakers continued.

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In August, Mayorkas sent letters to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, hitting back at the officials over their handling of the surge of migrants in New York City, Politico reported at the time. He further noted “structural issues” with New York’s handling of the crisis and implored the city and state to accept a lease DOI sent for the temporary use of Floyd Bennett Field to house migrants.

“DOI seeks to finalize that lease as soon as you are ready,” Mayorkas wrote to Hochul and Adams, according to Politico.

mayorkas eagle pass

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas holds a press conference at a U.S. Border Patrol station on Jan. 8 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Weeks later, on Sept. 15, DOI and the local parties executed the agreement to lease portions of Floyd Bennett Field’s property. Officials then constructed temporary housing on land along the shore of Jamaica Bay.

However, the Republican leaders have pointed out that, prior to the decision to lease the property, Hochul noted the DOI had itself argued such an action would likely violate federal laws. The governor, who has called for federal assistance in dealing with her state’s migrant influx, remarked one month prior that officials told her office “they do not allow for use of shelter on any of their properties.”

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The Republicans have also probed how the White House Council on Environmental Quality appears to have allowed DOI to bypass the normal eco review process mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act. The 1969 law requires federal agencies to review the environmental impacts of projects and proposals on federal land before approval.

Biden and immigration policy

The Biden administration leased federal property in Gateway National Recreation Area’s Floyd Bennett Field, property managed by the National Park Service, to the local government. The property is being used to temporarily house migrants. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the housing facility erected at Floyd Bennett Field has been heavily criticized by migrants as inhumane and, according to a Venezuelan mother of three interviewed by The City, “like a hell.” Thousands of migrants at the encampment were evacuated earlier this month and sent to a New York City high school, forcing the school to cancel in-person classes.

The Natural Resources Committee’s ongoing investigation comes as migrants continue to flood the southern border in record numbers and Republicans call for the Biden administration to make structural reforms to secure the border.

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In December, more than 302,000 migrants were encountered attempting to cross the U.S. southern border, by far the largest single month figure ever recorded. The number also brought fiscal 2024 first-quarter numbers to 785,000 encounters, the highest number ever recorded.

DHS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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