Mayorkas said another 3,000 Haitian migrants remain in detention, while 5,000 are being processed by the Department of Homeland Security and 4,000 have been expelled under a public health authority known as Title 42. Photo by Allison Dinner/EPA-EFE
Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday that as many as 12,000 Haitian migrants who made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border have been released into the United States.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Mayorkas said that approximately 10,000 to 12,000 migrants detained in Del Rio, Texas, in recent weeks have been released into the United States.
Another 3,000 remain in detention, while 5,000 are being processed by the Department of Homeland Security, and in a separate interview with CNN's State of the Union, he said 4,000 have been expelled under a public health authority known as Title 42.
Mayorkas told Fox News Sunday that the number of migrants released into the United States and returned to Haiti could both "be even higher" as their cases are processed.
"We will make determinations whether they will be returned to Haiti based on our public health and public interest authorities," he said.
Speaking of the approximately 12,000 migrants released into the country, Mayorkas said that individuals placed in immigration court proceedings go before a judge where they can make a claim of asylum or other claims to remain in the United States and are permitted to remain or removed based on the judge's ruling.
He added that the United States has "enforcement guidelines" in place to ensure that people who have recently crossed the border and do not show up for their hearings are removed.
"It is our intention to remove them, that is what our policies are, and we deploy our enforcement resources according to certain priorities to ensure the safety and security of the American people," he said.
Responding to criticism from Democrats in Congress about the Title 42 provision, which was put into effect by the Trump administration, Mayorkas noted that it is a "public health authority" and "not an immigration policy."
"It is exercised as the ... Centers for Disease Control, has ordered, in light of the arc of the pandemic," he said. "The public has to remember that we are in the midst of a pandemic. The Delta variant caused a setback. More than 600,000 Americans have died. More than 40 U.S. Customs and Border Protection front-line personnel have lost their lives."
Last Sunday, Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano confirmed that two flights transported the first group of migrants back to Haiti as the country grips with the assassination of the country's president, Jovenel Moise, in July and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake last month that killed over 2,000 Haitians.
Mayorkas said Friday: "As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio International Bridge." At one time, there were 15,000 migrants, who were primarily Haitians, under the bridge connecting Del Rio with Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.
Democrats have urged the Biden administration to focus on providing humanitarian aid to Haiti rather than conducting removals, and Daniel Foote, the U.S. special envoy for Haiti, resigned from his post Wednesday over what he called the Biden administration's "inhumane" deportation of Haitian refugees from the southern border in Texas.
Mayorkas responded to Foote's departure Sunday, saying "I respectfully disagree with the envoy's position."
"With respect to the conditions in Haiti, we studied those conditions very carefully," he said. "And we made a determination several months ago that individuals resident in the United States who were from Haiti who were unlawfully present could not safely return there. And, therefore, we granted them temporary protected status."
In addition, U.S. Border Patrol on Thursday temporarily suspended the use of horses while dealing with migrants at the border after photographs and videos captured agents on horseback appearing to charge at and herd Haitian migrants.
"We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation's ongoing battle against systemic racism," Mayorkas said.
He added, however, that he did not want to "prejudge the facts" or in any way "impair the integrity" of an investigation into the actions of the agents involved.
"I think it's quite clear that what the images suggest horrified the American public," he said. "That is quite different than learning what actually happened, determining the facts. And the fact determinations will be made in an independent investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility."