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'We're ready': After issues in Del Rio, Mayorkas says DHS is prepared for additional groups of Haitian migrants

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/8/2021 Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY
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Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify some details around the legal process for migrants seeking asylum.

WASHINGTON – Amid reports of thousands of Haitian migrants again heading to the U.S.-Mexico border, the head of the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday the Biden administration has learned from the unexpected wave of migrants who came last month and is prepared for the possibility of additional groups.

After the administration faced criticism for its treatment of more than 10,000 Haitian migrants who had gathered under a bridge at the United States' southern border, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told the USA TODAY Editorial Board and newsroom journalists that his agency has developed plans to address additional groups of migrants.

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“It was most certainly a challenge that we had not encountered previously,” Mayorkas said of the roughly 15,000 Haitian migrants who set up camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, last month. “And what we have done now, is we have developed plans that should something like that occur again, we're ready for it.”

Panama Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes told Axios last week that since the beginning of 2021, more than 85,000 Haitians have crossed through Panama and she believes they are all heading on to the United States. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Saturday that “Texas National Guard is gearing up at the border for increased caravans attempting to cross the border.”

Mayorkas noted that resources that were brought in to address the previous group of migrants have been “lined up already” in case the need arises again. He noted the department is ready to deploy personnel, as well as call upon humanitarian resources, food supplies, facilities, transportation and medical care.

Less than a week after the first reports of Haitians camped out under the bridge last month, the United States cleared the camp. Mayorkas had previously said "12,400 individuals will have their cases heard by an immigration judge to make a determination on whether they will be removed or permitted to remain in the United States." DHS policy, however, allows immigration officers to adjudicate requests for asylum.

Several thousand migrants also would also be flown to Haiti for repatriation or would be processed by the U.S. government to determine their immigration status, Mayorkas previously said.

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“Critical to preventing it is the fact that not only did we learn from it, but the lesson is shared with our partners to the south,” he said, without elaborating. 

Mayorkas: 'We do not embrace' Title 42 as an immigration policy 

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later Tuesday told reporters aboard Air Force One that the United States will use Title 42 to address any new groups of Haitian migrants that arrive at the border. Title 42 allows Customs and Border Protection officials to expel undocumented migrants as part of an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But many immigration advocates and some Democratic lawmakers have called on the Biden Administration to stop using Title 42. 

Under international and federal law, individuals coming to the United States should be allowed to apply for asylum. A judge ruled last month that the administration had to stop expelling migrant families with children under the Title 42 policy. That ruling was set to take effect on Sept. 30.

Mayorkas told USA TODAY that Title 42 is “not an immigration policy” and said it’s up to the Center for Disease Control to end the policy.

“It is indeed a public health measure,” he said. “We do not embrace it as an immigration policy.” 

CBP officials this year have encountered more than 1 million migrants at the border, with some of those encounters involving individuals who have repeatedly crossed into the United States. The Biden Administration has expelled the majority of migrants coming to the U.S., with the exception of most unaccompanied children and a small number of families with young children. 

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights organization, criticized the Biden administration’s use of Title 42 in a statement Tuesday.

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“This administration came in talking about a ‘transformative vision,’ ” he said. “With their unconscionable deportations of Haitians and their determination to prop up the morally vacant Title 42, they have strayed far from that vision.”

Earlier this year, there were reports the Biden administration was gearing up to end the policy. Mayorkas said the administration was “on trajectory” to end the policy but the increase of the Delta variant of COVID-19 led to the policy remaining in place.

When asked what standard the administration is looking for to end the program, Mayorkas said, “I am confident it is not the eradication of every single case” of COVID but would not expand on under what circumstances the policy would stop being used.

“I do not embrace it as a matter of immigration policy,” Mayorkas said of Title 42. “I believe in our asylum laws, and we are dedicating extraordinary resources to rebuild the asylum system.”

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'We're ready': After issues in Del Rio, Mayorkas says DHS is prepared for additional groups of Haitian migrants

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