DHS secretary condemns treatment of Haitian migrants but says US will ramp up deportations
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas walked a careful line Tuesday, condemning the actions of border agents seen chasing away Haitian migrants while pledging to ramp up deportations to the Caribbean nation.
Viral video footage Monday from the U.S.-Mexico border showed officers on horseback, seeking to push Haitians camped in Del Rio, Texas, back across the border.
Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility on Tuesday morning committed to investigating the matter.
“I was horrified to see the images, and we look forward to learning the facts that are produced from the investigation, and we will take actions that those facts compel. We do not tolerate any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant, period,” Mayorkas told lawmakers during an appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee convened to examine threats to the U.S.
But while the event has placed a renewed focus on DHS’s treatment of migrants, Mayorkas said the administration has no plans to cease flights to a country that in a matter of months has seen an earthquake and a presidential assassination that have led to severe instability.
“We are increasing the frequency and number of the repatriation flights each day,” Mayorkas said.
“And we’re hoping that what we are doing now serves as a deterrent because it backs up the words that we have spoken since the very outset: that irregular migration is not the way to enter the United States. It will not work,” he added.
The Biden administration resumed flights to Haiti last week, expelling more than 500 people back to the country.
The situation reached a tipping point in Del Rio after more than 10,000 camped out under a bridge spanning the U.S. and Mexico with plans to seek asylum.
But the Biden administration had already been expelling Haitians along with many others under Title 42, a Trump-era policy retained by the Biden administration that allows border agents to quickly expel migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum.
Republicans seized on what they argue is a worsening situation that the Biden administration has done little to resolve in eight months in office.
“Every time you come before this committee, you always say, ‘It’s going to get better. Our plan is going to work at some future point.’ And you also usually say ‘It’s really not as bad as it looks.’ And then every time you leave, it gets worse and worse,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said to Markorkas.
“This is a humanitarian crisis in Del Rio. You can spin it whichever way that you want. But you’re quite right. We should not minimize the humanitarian conditions for which, frankly, you’re responsible,” Hawley said.
The scenes also led to a debate about the role of Title 42 and the government’s obligation to battle misinformation.
“While most immigrants are being turned away or expelled from the southern border because of the CDC Title 42 rule, misinformation continues to spread,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), noting promises from smugglers of their ability to guarantee safe passage to the U.S.
But Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said disinformation is not to blame simply because some Haitians are being let into the country under another provision of the law, Title 8.
“They’re coming to the border, not because of disinformation necessarily, as Sen. Padilla talked about, and I appreciated his question, but a lot of it’s accurate information. Because a human smuggler can say to this family, ‘Give me 10,000 bucks, I’ll take your kid. I guarantee they can get in. Just say you are seeking asylum.’ And with regard to the Haitians, this is what you hear,” he said.
He went on to argue that the U.S. needs to prepare for a scenario in which the courts might overturn Title 42, arguing that America’s current asylum system is too much of a draw.
“We need an alternative. We’ve got to figure out a way to discourage people from coming to our country by letting them know the border is not open. You can’t just come and say that you claim asylum and be able to come in the United States indefinitely, you have to be able to prove that,” he said.
But Padilla said the conditions being faced by Haitians merit refuge in the U.S.
“What’s happening at the border is unacceptable on so many fronts, and I too want to strongly condemn the inhumane treatment of Haitians or anyone else who is fleeing violence or natural disasters and seeking protection in our country,” he said.
“I have heard your statements, Mr. Secretary, about the need to create safer and more orderly pathways of legal migration to the United States, so that people do not have to make dangerous journeys to the southern border by other means.”