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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has revealed that the Biden administration began the asylum process for thousands of Haitian migrants who last week sat at a growing encampment near the border in Del Rio, Texas.
Between 10,000 to 12,000 people from the camp, which at its peak was around 15,000 people, were admitted to the US on a conditional basis as their asylum claims are processed, the DHS secretary said on Sunday.
Immigrant rights advocates and Democrats, including prominent Black lawmakers from the party like Rep Maxine Waters, had called for the Biden administration to admit all or some of the crowds of thousands gathered in Del Rio due to the ongoing political instability in Haiti caused by the assassination of its president and the dire state of affairs resulting from a tropical storm and earthquake striking the island within a few days of each other.
Asylum claims are meant to allow migrants with credible fears of facing violence or other dangers in their home countries to enter the US; it is a legal process to which all migrants are entitled to apply for, but individuals must be present at the US border or already inside the US to make such a claim. Such immigrants are not considered undocumented, though conservative critics of the administration have largely not bothered to even make that distinction.
“They’re released on conditions..approximately I think 10,000 or so, 12,000,” Mr Mayorkas said of the Del Rio migrants on Fox News Sunday.
He went on to confirm that the number “could” expand as the fates of 5,000 who are currently in processing are determined.
In a separate interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr Mayorkas noted that around 2,000 Haitian migrants were expelled and flown to Haiti after the US government determined they were eligible for expulsion under Title 42 of the US Code, which allows for migrants to be expelled if they have recently been in a country where a “communicable disease” is present; the Trump administration began using this rarely-used section of the US Code last year to expel migrants after the Centers for Disease Control issued a directive stating that those originating from or recently traveling from “Coronavirus Impacted Areas” should not be admitted to the US.
The Trump administration faced criticism from immigrants’ rights advocates last year for its use of the regulation, but the Biden administration declined to reverse the trend upon taking office in January and accelerated the expulsions as the pandemic has continued through 2021.
During his NBC interview on Sunday, Mr Mayorkas argued that the expulsion of migrants under this authority was necessary given the current CDC guidance and added that it was not a “mistake”, as host Chuck Todd questioned, to send many of the migrants to Haiti despite many having reached the US after living in South American countries including Brazil and Chile for years and having little or nothing to go back to in Haiti.
The Del Rio encampment became a political firestorm for the Biden administration over the past week, with the White House fielding criticism from both sides on the issue. Conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump have pushed the Biden administration for months to turn away more immigrants at the border and keep in place Trump-era restrictions on asylum and entry; while progressives and Democrats have decried the treatment of the mostly Black migrants as inhumane and called for compassion in response to the thousands of Haitians fleeing violence and devastation at home.
Vice President Kamala Harris, Mr Mayorkas and others in the administration have denounced images that were widely criticized of Customs and Border Protection agents confronting migrants in the Del Rio area on horseback, while largely continuing to ignore criticism from Republicans regarding the numbers of migrants admitted to the US.