McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As the Biden administration continues to take criticism for its handling of 15,000 migrants who were huddled under the Del Rio International Bridge for weeks, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told an online legal conference Monday that 13,000 migrants are having their asylum cases heard before a U.S. immigration judge.
In response to a question from ABC News that cited Mayorkas as telling another network that 12,000 migrants — mostly Haitians — were released in Del Rio by DHS officials, Mayorkas on Monday corrected and then upped the figure.
“The numbers are above the 10,000 to 12,000, just to be clear. It’s about 13,000,” Mayorkas said during the 2021 Immigration Law and Policy Conference on Monday, held online by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Migration Policy Institute and Georgetown University Law Center.
Border Report reached out to DHS for clarification on how many migrants encountered in Del Rio, Texas, have been released into the United States and repatriated or expelled. We were told that of the 13,000 individuals who will have their asylum claims heard by an immigration judge in the United States, 3,000 are currently in detention under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That means 10,000 have been released in the United States.
A total of 8,000 migrants encountered in Del Rio “decided to return to Mexico voluntarily,” and just over 4,000 were “being processed by DHS to determine whether they will be expelled or placed in immigration removal proceedings under Title 8,” a DHS spokesman from Washington, D.C. told Border Report.
“The numbers placed in immigration court proceedings are a function of operational capacity and also what we consider to be appropriate,” Mayorkas told the Monday afternoon conference.
His comments came during an unscripted 45 minute question and answer session with Dorris Meissner, senior fellow and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan D.C. think tank. Meissner took several questions from an online chat that ranged from resettlement of Afghan refugees, to when Title 42 border restrictions could be lifted, to what she called a “tightening at the border.”
Meissner, who is former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton administration, asked Mayorkas why the Biden administration selected the date of July 29 as the day by which Haitians must have had to already be in the United States to be eligible for Temporary Protected Status. This meant that the majority of Haitians who arrived to claim asylum in Del Rio were ineligible.
Mayorkas responded that the Biden administration earlier in the year “looked at conditions in Haiti and determined that TPS was warranted.” But he said that the July 29 date had already been established and on Aug. 3 was printed in the Federal Register, which was prior to the Aug. 14 magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck the Caribbean island nation, and could have been a contributing factor to what he called “irregular migration.”
On Friday, DHS announced all migrants had been removed from under the bridge. Thousands were being processed in other Southwest border towns. And about 2,430 migrants have been placed on repatriation flights back to Haiti.
This included 529 Haitians flown back in three flights from Del Rio to Haiti’s capital of Cap Haitien on Saturday, and 501 repatriated on Sunday back to Haiti, the DHS spokesman said.
DHS officials said “these flights will continue on a regular basis.”
Since Sept. 9, nearly 30,000 migrants were encountered in Del Rio, DHS told Border Report.
“We are messaging to the diaspora community to the fact they should not take the perilous journey here for the reasons we so compellingly saw over the last two weeks,” Mayorkas said.
The Biden administration has been under fire by civil rights groups and migrant advocates for what they deem unfair treatment of migrants of color. This included use of U.S. Border Patrol horse patrol agents who are accused of appearing to maliciously herd migrants from under the Del Rio bridge.
President Joe Biden later said those border agents “will pay,” while Mayorkas said he was “horrified at what the pictures suggest.” The photographer who took some of the now-viral photos explained he and others never saw agents whipping migrants, but that they did swing their split reins as migrants neared their horses.
On Monday, the Black Southern Women’s Collective joined other advocacy groups in condemning what they call “inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants at the southern border.”
“Humanitarianism does not begin or end at U.S. borders,” said Phyllis Hill, founder of the Black Southern Women’s Collective. “As women of faith, women organizing in and with Black communities, and persons committed to racial justice, we are heartbroken by the treatment of Haitian migrants. In their greatest hour of need, Haitian migrants are being met with violence and unspeakable cruelty. We must fundamentally reform the plight of Black immigrants.”
“It is clear that the experience of Black immigrants is largely erased from national media coverage,” said Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida. “But the treatment of Black immigrants reflects a nation entrenched in white supremacy. Black immigrants from across the diaspora are often excluded from the national discourse on immigration even though they are subject to the same marginalization as non-Black immigrants. They also navigate the terrains of race in a way that non-Black immigrants do not. It should not take horrifying photos of Black people being whipped and terrorized to inspire leaders to reform our immigration policies. Our nation’s leaders can and must do better.”