Mayorkas defends Biden policies on migrants in tense White House briefing

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasSenate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation Ending worksite raids is a show; focus should be on employer compliance Border Patrol arrests at highest level ever: report MORE at a tense White House briefing on Friday defended the Biden administration's policies on immigration as moral, arguing its deportations of Haitians and others found to have illegally crossed the border are neither immoral nor unethical.

“We do not conduct ourselves in an immoral way,” Mayorkas said when asked about the morality of using a Trump-era law known as Title 42 to return Haitians to a nation recovering from an earthquake and plagued by political instability.

The U.S. has expelled some 2,000 migrants from Haiti under Title 42, which allows swift expulsion of migrants with no opportunity to claim asylum during a public health crisis. 

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“We do not conduct ourselves in an unethical way. In fact, we are restoring people by reason of the immorality of the past administration. We are reuniting families that were separated,” he said.

Mayorkas has frequently defended the need for Title 42 on a public health basis, but gave a new caveat Friday.

“Over 600,000 Americans have died. More than 40 U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel have died. Many migrants have gotten sick," he said. "We are doing this out of a public health need. It is not an immigration policy. It is not an immigration policy that we would embrace.”

It was a remarkable statement from an administration defending Title 42 in court, where it faces a reignited suit from the American Civil Liberties Union that began under Trump. It is also appealing a court decision earlier this month requiring the Biden team to suspend its use for families — a group that numbered about 16,000 in August. 

“Let me explain something, the reality of the situation. Because we’re dealing with a great number of individuals who are encountered at the border in a congregate setting and placed in customs and border protection, border patrol stations. And that can cause the significant spread of a pandemic. And it is in light of the operational realities that the Centers for Disease Control made a determination in its public health expertise that Title 42 authority must be exercised,” Mayorkas said. 

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Mayorkas returned to the White House briefing room as reporters spent the week pressing for details on the surge of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Mayorkas offered updates on the handling of those migrants, thousands of whom have been cleared out of a camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

But he also offered broader defenses of the administration’s immigration policies, insisting officials had placed an emphasis on treating migrants in a humane way and restoring credibility after four years of the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict immigration.

In one of the more tense moments of Friday’s briefing, a reporter argued to Mayorkas that Haitian migrants have faced mistreatment from U.S. administrations for decades. The reporter noted he was an immigrant who had been on “the wrong side” of U.S. immigration proceedings for years.

Mayorkas, who pointed out he is also an immigrant, argued asylum claims and Title 42 authority has applied equally to migrants from all countries whether they are fleeing violence in Central America, Haiti or elsewhere.

“Title 42 authority has been applied irrespective of the country or origin, irrespective of the race of the individual, irrespective of other criteria that don’t belong in our adjudicative process,” Mayorkas said.

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In another terse exchange, Mayorkas repeatedly gestured to Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy to let him finish his answer after Doocy asked about President BidenJoe Biden White House: US has donated 200 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world Police recommend charges against four over Sinema bathroom protest K Street revenues boom MORE’s inaccurate characterization that migrants had been whipped by agents on horseback.

Mayorkas has been under the spotlight for much of the first seven months of the Biden administration as surges of migrants from Central America, Haiti and elsewhere have cropped up at the southern border, leading to record-setting levels of detentions by border agents and outcry from advocates over the conditions where migrants are being held.

The latest episode was set off as thousands of Haitians fled the island after a devastating earthquake and the assassination of the president. The complete clearing of the Del Rio camp means the Department of Homeland Security has processed an estimated 15,000 Haitian migrants who had gathered there in recent weeks.

The White House was criticized by many members of its own party after photos and video circulated of agents on horseback chasing down and using reins to corral migrants at the border.

Mayorkas, who spent much of the week condemning the actions of those agents, did so again Friday but reserved judgment on their fate until the completion of an ongoing investigation.

“The investigation into what occurred has not yet concluded,” Mayorkas said. “We know those images painfully conjured up the worst images of our nation’s painful battle against systemic racism.”