Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images Alejandro Mayorkas
When asked last week about the chaotic scene at Texas' southern border, where an 17,000 largely Haitian migrants had gathered hoping for asylum and entry into the U.S., President Joe Biden told reporters, "We'll get it under control."
On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made the case that that job is getting done, despite the criticism from either side of the immigration debate and the stories of dire conditions.
By Friday, Mayorkas announced that all the migrants had been cleared from the area. During appearances on Sunday's political talk shows, he said approximately 4,000 of the asylum seekers had been expelled under Title 42, a portion of the public health code that allows U.S. officials to prevent entry to individuals during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayorkas said on CNN's State of the Union that the other thousands of migrants who were released into the U.S. will wait for their cases to be heard and a judge's determination on whether they can remain in the country under asylum laws.
"There are about 13,000 that are in immigration court proceedings," Mayorkas said, adding that Title 42 is a "public health imperative to protect migrants themselves, local communities, our personnel and the American public" under the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Immigration advocates, by contrast, argue these Trump-era restrictions prevent lawful asylum.
The situation at the border has, as with previous influxes of migrants, put the Biden administration between conservatives who say he is too lenient and ill-equipped and liberals who say he should be more accepting and less punitive with people seeking new lives in America.
"This administration, the Biden-Harris administration, has indeed rescinded the immoral, unethical and cruel policies and we are rebuilding a system that's been entirely dismantled by the prior administration," Mayorkas insisted on CNN on Sunday.
Potentially thousands of the Haitian migrants who now reside in the U.S. while they await their court date may be allowed to stay legally if they are granted asylum by a judge.
Mayorkas addressed the issue of migrants missing court dates in an attempt to remain unlawfully, telling Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, "We have enforcement guidelines in place that provide that individuals who are recent border-crossers who do not show up for their hearings are enforcement priorities and will be removed."
Wallace asked the secretary about the previous administration's policy on constructing a border wall.
"We do not agree with the building of the wall," Mayorkas said. "The law provides that individuals can make a claim for humanitarian relief. That is actually one of our proudest traditions."
In his Sunday interviews, Mayorkas also addressed the treatment of the Haitian migrants. Photos and video of the makeshift campsites and of mounted federal border patrol agents maneuvering their horses and using their reins to keep control of the crowds prompted outrage, including from the White House, and accusations that the migrants were being treated inhumanely.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last Tuesday that Biden "believes that the footage and photos are horrific. They don't represent who we are as a country."
Felix Marquez/AP/Shutterstock Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain mostly migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad AcuÒa into Del Rio, Texas.
The Department of Homeland Security has launched an investigation. "We take these allegations very seriously," a department spokesperson said, according to CBS News.
Mayorkas, who visited the region last week, defended the agents whose job is to secure the border with Mexico.
"I'm intensely and immensely proud of the men and women of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, he said Sunday on Meet the Press. "In fact, in Del Rio, Texas, I saw them act heroically."
Though he wouldn't address the viral images directly, Mayorkas did acknowledge the "incredibly important function" of horse patrol at the border.
However, he added on CNN that although what the images "appear to portray" is startling, "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 for Professional Responsibility."
ALLISON DINNER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Thousands of migrants encamped in Del Rio, Texas, USA, Ciudad Acuna, Mexico
"The facts that are determined will drive the outcome, nothing less and nothing more," he added.
Vice President Kamala Harris has acknowledged the plight of Haitians and connected it to the responsibility of the U.S. in supporting those who flee their homes due to political instability and natural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti that claimed more than 1,200 lives. The country is again riven by turmoil in the wake of Jovenel Moïse's July assassination.
"We have to understand Haiti," Harris said last week. "As a member of the Western Hemisphere, we've got to support some very basic needs that the people of Haiti have to get back up and to do what folks naturally want to do … People want to stay home. They don't want to leave home. But they leave when they cannot satisfy their basic needs."