Rep. Kat Cammack Calls Mayorkas' Response to Story About Undocumented Immigrant 'Troubling'

A recent hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas prompted a freshman House member to share a story from her senior year of high school: A classmate was kidnapped at knifepoint in a pharmacy parking lot by an immigrant who was in the country illegally and had previously been deported.

"I remember when it happened that our entire town was rocked by this incident," Representative Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican who grew up in Colorado, told Newsweek after the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday. "It was a formative moment for myself and probably for several others."

Contemporary reports of the ordeal show that Pedro Martinez, who was 25 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping 19-year-old Douglas County High School student Amber Scott in an attempted robbery in Castle Rock, Colorado, in 2006.

Multiple attempts by Newsweek to reach Scott and her family were unsuccessful this week. Cammack said she has not spoken to her former classmate in several years, so it's unclear whether Scott knows that her story was recounted to a high-ranking member of the Biden administration during a public hearing.

"People never think that things like that can happen in their hometown," Cammack told Newsweek of her decision to share the story. "It was incredible in terms of how we all functioned and thought about our surroundings."

The congressional hearing with Mayorkas—his first since being sworn into office last month—had a contentious tone, as Republicans hammered him about the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border, where there has been a surge of unaccompanied migrant children that is crushing resources. Mayorkas has defended the Biden administration's decision not to call the situation a crisis, saying instead it is a "challenge" that they are working to address.

"The situation at our southern border cannot and will not be transformed overnight," he said during his opening remarks. "Our primary responsibility is to keep our homeland and the American people safe, and we are safer when we take a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to border management, ensuring that policies and procedures at the border are consistent with American values, immigration laws and regulations."

During the hearing, which was conducted virtually because of the pandemic mitigation measures at the Capitol, several Republicans grilled Mayorkas about the border situation. Cammack is one of the newest members of Congress, and her turn came as the hearing stretched into its third hour.

"Several of my colleagues have talked about the statistics—the numbers of folks coming over the border—but I just want to bring it home a little bit," she told Mayorkas. "I'm from a small town out West, and the month before I was supposed to graduate high school in 2006, one of my classmates was kidnapped by an illegal who had been deported multiple times."

Martinez had been deported to Mexico after three felony drug convictions in Arizona before the kidnapping, according to news reports at the time. His attorney said he reentered the country illegally to be with his family.

Reports also show that during Martinez's sentencing hearing, Amber Scott's father, Steve, read a statement from her because she wasn't emotionally able to be there in person.

"The night I was kidnapped, my entire view of life and safety was changed forever," the statement said.

Cammack said she worries the country is put at risk by programs that "incentivize" people to come to the United States unlawfully, and also when efforts are overwhelmed at the border.

Cammack continued, "So my question to you—her name is Amber Scott, the young lady that was kidnapped by this illegal criminal—how many more Ambers have to be kidnapped across America before you will take action?"

Mayorkas, an attorney who also served in the Obama administration, wasn't required to answer, and often officials will sidestep such rhetorical declarations in committee. But he asked for additional time.

"I find that question to be extraordinarily disrespectful—not only to me but disrespectful to the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security and to all the front-line personnel throughout this country that dedicate themselves to the safety and security of the American people," Mayorkas said.

The Homeland Security Department didn't respond to Newsweek's request for a follow-up on the exchange.

Cammack said she thinks that Mayorkas is under a lot of pressure, but she found his remarks dismissive.

"As secretary of homeland security, you would think he would have empathy for the human element of this crisis," she told Newsweek. "That, to me, is troubling when we are dealing with the humanitarian crisis and national security crisis."

Kat Cammack
Members of the Virginia National Guard are given a tour Statuary Hall by Representative Kat Cammack on January 13. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images