Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is struggling to persuade lawmakers that his department is fulfilling the Biden administration’s pledge to make the immigration system more humane as the U.S. forces Haitians back to their Caribbean nation in turmoil.
Several Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee and across Capitol Hill condemned the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday for its decision to ramp up repatriation flights to Haiti in recent days and continue using a public health order to expel many Haitians and other migrants at the border.
“Isn’t there some way for us to reexamine this? This is an appeal, Mr. Secretary,” Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) told Mayorkas. “Maybe there’s something we missed. Can you give me some hope?”
Mayorkas’ appearance on Capitol Hill comes as criticism of the administration’s border policies hits a fever pitch among liberal allies and Republican detractors alike. The arrival of more than 10,000 Haitian migrants near Del Rio, Texas, sparked outrage among conservatives who blame the situation on the White House’s elimination of some Trump-era policies, including construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Immigrants’ rights advocates and many Democratic lawmakers view Del Rio—and recent images of Border Patrol agents apparently using horse reins against migrants there—as a call-to-action for the U.S. to take in more Haitians amid chaos in their country, and broaden protections for migrants in general.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with White House officials Wednesday demanding that the Biden administration reconsider repatriation flights to Haiti, take in more migrants, and fire the Border Patrol agents involved in the horseback incident.
“I’m not just unhappy with the cowboys who were running down Haitians and using their reins to whip them, I’m [unhappy] with the administration,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said during a press conference Wednesday.
Mayorkas and other members of the administration have said they were horrified by images of the incident and are conducting an immediate investigation. The union that represents Border Patrol agents defended the actions.
Mayorkas’ insistence that the U.S. must use Title 42—the public health policy allowing for immediate expulsion of many migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic—to remove Haitians and other migrants while also working to improve the broader immigration and asylum process fell flat with many Democrats during Wednesday’s
House Homeland Security Committee hearing.
“It’s a discriminatory practice, and I just want to continue to encourage the administration to end the use of Title 42 in a day and age when we have vaccines and we have requirements we can put in place for people to get vaccines,” Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) said.
Forced flights to Haiti also earned scorn from Democrats during Wednesday’s hearing and across Capitol Hill this week. The Department of Homeland Security has shuttled more than 1,000 Haitian nationals to Port-au-Prince since Sunday and plans to continue the repatriation flights. Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging a “humanitarian moratorium” on the practice.
Mayorkas said DHS is working with Chile, Brazil, and others in South America to see if they can take in Haitian migrants who’ve recently spent time in those countries.
Haiti has experienced political and literal upheaval in recent months after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the August earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.
“I don’t think that we can overstate the heartbreak with respect to the vulnerability of the Haitian people who we are encountering, specifically in Del Rio, Texas, over the last week,” Mayorkas said.
He added, however, that DHS has provided temporary protected status to Haitians present in the U.S. prior to July 29 and assessed that current conditions in Haiti supported the decision to return more recent arrivals.
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