Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited El Paso Thursday as part of a three-day tour of the U.S.-Mexico border to discuss personnel challenges related to the surging omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Mayorkas met with local officials including County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, Mayor Oscar Leeser, a representative from U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar’s office and several Border Patrol officials, Samaniego said.

“We’ve seen that issue (personnel) coming at us from everywhere: we’re lacking teachers, we’re lacking first responders, the fire department … and the same thing with (Border Patrol) agents,” Samaniego said.

The combination of increasing numbers of migrants arriving at the border and heightened numbers of Border Patrol agents out sick with COVID-19 has created staffing challenges for the agency, Samaniego explained.

“Personnel has become the number one issue,” he said.

Mayorkas shared on social media that he visited Santa Teresa Monument 3 outside of El Paso with Border Patrol agents, and met with Border Patrol Special Operations. His Twitter posts emphasized the need for additional resources for Border Patrol agents.

El Paso Border Patrol sector spokesperson Landon Hutchens described Mayorkas’ visit as “very positive.”

“The secretary had a very positive visit with agents in El Paso and very candid discussions,” he said. “He talked about getting them the personnel and resources they need to accomplish their mission.”

The El Paso visit follows a highly publicized stop in Yuma, Arizona, on Wednesday. Although Mayorkas has not offered media access to trip events, audio from his meeting with Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents was leaked to Townhall, a conservative news source that described the meeting as “disastrous.”

The nation’s immigration policy has faced sharp criticism during Mayorkas’ tenure, with rising numbers of migrant and asylum seeker apprehensions at the border and the continued use of controversial Trump-era measures like Title 42 and the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, called for Mayorkas’ resignation on Wednesday following the secretary’s visit to Yuma.

Mayorkas received a very different welcome in El Paso than in Arizona, Samaniego said.

“I think it’s more of a political issue in Arizona than anything else. If it were up to them they’d just close the borders,” he said. “We’re not like that.”

Mayorkas will also visit the border in Laredo, Texas, after leaving El Paso.

Cover photo: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with El Paso Border Patrol special operations agents on Thursday. (Photo courtesy DHS)

René Kladzyk reports on wide-ranging issues impacting the lives of El Pasoans. She also performs music as Ziemba. René can be reached at rkladzyk@elpasomatters.org. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.