Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas blamed an unexpected “sudden” surge of Haitians for overwhelming his agents on the border in Texas and establishing a migrant camp on the banks of the Rio Grande, but insisted Monday that his department does have operational control of the boundary.
Making a snap visit to Del Rio, site of the encampment, Mr. Mayorkas said agents are whittling down the number of migrants there, and vowed up to three flights a day heading back to Haiti to send the message that coming illegally won’t work.
He also said the administration is working with other countries where many of the migrants last lived, such as Brazil and Chile, to see whether they will take Haitians back as well.
The camp has been in place for days, but swelled to about 16,000 people late last week, for reasons that are still debated.
Border officials blamed smugglers for “misinformation,” while analysts said Mexico’s decisions may have played a role in releasing the stream of Haitians.
The migrants were crossing back and forth at will, awaiting their turn to be processed by Border Patrol agents with the hope of making asylum or other immigration claims and demanding a foothold here.
One reporter challenged Mr. Mayorkas over whether the U.S. had operational control of the boundary.
“We do,” the secretary replied.
Mr. Mayorkas swatted aside questions about why the department appeared to be behind the curve on the surge, as the numbers reached 16,000 people.
“The volume of people was rather sudden, rather dramatic,” he said. “We surged resources according to the pace.”
Mr. Mayorkas’ response has come under fire from both ends of the immigration debate.
Sen Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said the secretary’s visit was a “photo-op,” intended to paper over the broader problems with Biden administration’s border policies that have invited an unprecedented surge of illegal immigration.
“Enough of the photo-ops. Get to work securing our southern border,” Mr. Cruz said.
From the other side of the debate, immigrant-rights activists say it’s cruel to send people back to Haiti when Mr. Mayorkas himself just a month ago labeled the conditions there so perilous that he announced a deportation amnesty, or Temporary Protected Status, for Haitians already in the U.S. as of late July.
“Expelling and returning Haitians to a country in the midst of a political and humanitarian crisis — to a country which cannot ensure their security and basic needs — is both legally and morally indefensible,” said Eric. P Schwartz, president of Refugees International.
He pointed out that it would be particularly unfit to send to Haiti people who, while Haitian citizens, have lived outside that country for years. Tens of thousands of Haitians have been in Brazil, Chile and other South American nations for the last decade.
On Sunday, two flights from San Antonio and one from Laredo were recorded at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-Au-Prince, the Haitian capital. Another flight from San Antonio and one from Laredo were recorded Monday.
Mr. Mayorkas said the Haitians are being expelled under Title 42 powers, a pandemic order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that purports to grant Homeland Security the authority to block entry of illegal immigrants because of COVID-19.
A federal judge last week ruled the expulsions illegal, but gave a two-week grace period on his ruling to allow time to appeal. The Biden administration has indicated it will in fact appeal.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association said using Title 42 to expel people to Haiti was “morally reprehensible and illegal.”
AILA President Allen Orr said Haiti has been slammed with disasters and seen its president assassinated, part of ongoing unrest that makes the country unsafe for deportees.
“Given the great uncertainty surrounding the future of Haiti, including its ability to safely accept the return of its nationals, the Biden administration’s forcible expulsion of Haitians not only deprives people of the opportunity to apply for asylum but also endangers their lives,” he said.
As of last month, Mr. Mayorkas agreed. He granted Haitian migrants already in the U.S. a deportation amnesty under what’s known as Temporary Protected Status.
But on Monday Mr. Mayorkas said that was then, and this is now. He said their current evaluation is that Haiti can handle deportees.
“We made an assessment based on the country conditions, as we are required to do, that a re-designation of Haiti was not warranted,” the secretary said.
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