By Bethany Blankley (The Center Square)
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, and Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sparred Tuesday over issues related to pro-Palestinian students in the U.S. on visas and a DHS staffer expressing support for the annihilation of Israel.
Mayorkas testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday along with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said the biggest terrorist threat to Americans are violent extremists inspired by Islamic terrorist organizations like ISIS, al-Queda, Hamas and Iranian-financed groups.
Mayorkas was on the defensive with senators for most of his testimony after more than 10 million people illegally entered the U.S. under his watch, and after the greatest number of known and suspected terrorists were apprehended attempting to enter the U.S. in fiscal 2023.
The focus of Tuesday’s hearing was on “threats to the homeland” after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel last month and after the president, Wray and others have warned Americans that a terrorist threat on U.S. soil was more likely than before.
Ahead of the hearing, Hawley sent a letter to Mayorkas expressing concerns about a DHS staffer, Nejwa Ali, who adjudicates immigration cases. Ali, a former spokeswoman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, expressed support for destroying Israel on Oct. 7, the day Israel was attacked.
At the hearing, Hawley asked Mayorkas if he was familiar with the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” to which Mayorkas replied he was. The phrase refers to eradicating Israel, which is bordered by the Jordan River to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Hamas’ 2017 constitution states, “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
Hawley asked Mayorkas what the chant means, to which he replied, “it speaks of Palestinian desire for its homeland and a very expansive definition of its homeland at the expense of the independence of Israel.”
It “calls for the elimination of Israel, does it not?” Hawley asked.
“It does,” Mayorkas replied.
“So my question to you is, should students who are here on a visa who gather and chant that slogan and actively advocate for the elimination of Israel and attacks on Jewish individuals, whether in the Middle East or here in the United States as we’re seeing on college campuses, should those students have their visas revoked?” he asked.
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Hawley agrees with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who called for the administration to “cancel and rescind visas for foreign nationals who endorse or espouse terrorist activity, including those who defend or support Hamas by calling for intifada, jihad, or other similar actions to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel.”
Mayorkas said DHS was assessing the legal assertion: “It is a matter of legal interpretation of the statute.”
“Well, just as a moral matter, should students who are here, foreigners who are here in this country accessing our university system and advocating for the killing of Jews, should they be allowed to stay here at our leisure?” Hawley asked. Mayorkas repeated his reply.
Hawley then asked Mayorkas about an Oct. 7 tweet full of expletives about Israel, also stating, “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?” he asked.
“I do,” Mayorkas replied, adding, “I think there is a distinction between espousing or endorsing terrorist ideology and speech that is odious that does not rise to that level.”
Hawley then pointed out that Ali wrote the tweet and posted a photoshopped rendition of a paraglider with a machine gun flying into Israel, the same method Hamas terrorists used on Oct. 7. He asked if her posts were “typical of people who work at DHS? This is an asylum immigration officer who is posting these frankly pro genocidal slogans and images on the day that Israelis are being slaughtered in their beds. What have you done about this?”
Mayorkas replied, “to suggest that that is emblematic of the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security is despicable.”
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Hawley asked multiple times if she had been fired. Mayorkas said she was hired in 2019, had been placed on administrative leave, and wouldn’t discuss ongoing personnel matters.
Hawley then said, “Don’t come to this hearing room when Israel has been invaded and Jewish students are 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, has she been fired? I think that your performance is despicable and I think the fact that you are not willing to provide answers to this committee is absolutely atrocious.”
In response, Mayorkas said, Hawley’s question was “despicable” and took “an adversarial approach” towards him. “Perhaps he doesn’t know my own background. Perhaps he does not know that I am the child of a Holocaust survivor. Perhaps he does not know that my mother lost almost all her family at the hands of the Nazis. And so I find his adversarial tone to be entirely misplaced. I find it to be disrespectful of me and my heritage, and I do not expect an apology. But I did want to say what I just articulated.”
At a Senate Homeland Security committee hearing on Tuesday Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, grilled DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about revoking the visas of students who advocate for the destruction of Israel and about whether a DHS staffer who expressed support for the… pic.twitter.com/wDmzwbKkrP
— Bethany Blankley (@BethanyBlankley) November 1, 2023
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Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.