WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought Sunday to fend off criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border, specifically the cases of Haitian migrants who had been encamped under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
"I'm intensely and immensely proud of the men and women of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In fact, in Del Rio, Texas, I saw them act heroically," Mayorkas said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Criticism of the administration erupted last week after images began circulating showing an agent on horseback grabbing a migrant as the man tried to cross into the U.S. from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, as well as other video showing agents on horseback chasing the migrants and waving what appeared to be a leather rein or a lariat, lashing it toward them.
Mayorkas said the viral images of immigration officers on horseback chasing and intimidating mostly Haitians "does not reflect who CBP is, who we are as a department, nor who we are as a country."
The White House said last week that Border Patrol officers in Del Rio will no longer use the horses and that an investigation will continue.
Mayorkas defended the horseback training, saying horse patrol "serves an incredibly important function," but he would not comment directly about the viral images.
The Biden administration has been criticized for sending Haitian migrants, many who have been in Central and South American countries for several years, back to Haiti when it is dealing with a humanitarian crisis after a recent earthquake and a hurricane. The official response led the U.S. special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, to resign last week over what he called the administration's "inhumane" treatment of Haitian migrants.
Of the about 15,000 migrants who arrived at the border recently, Mayorkas said, 2,000 were returned to Haiti on 17 flights under the policy called Title 42, which was invoked at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and allows the administration to expel migrants swiftly.
An additional 12,400 will remain in the country and have their asylum cases heard by judges because of exemptions, which include people who have “acute vulnerabilities,” such as needing urgent medical care, or because of “operational capacity,” Mayorkas has said.
Mayorkas said Sunday that 5,000 migrants were still being processed by Homeland Security, and he defended the potential for thousands of migrants to stay in the U.S. beyond a couple of weeks.
"This is nothing new. We've seen this type of irregular migration many, many times throughout the years," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Asked why the administration did not build a barrier, such as a wall, to keep migrants out, Mayorkas replied: "It is not the policy of this administration. We do not agree with the building of a wall.
"The law provides that individuals can make a claim for humanitarian relief. That is actually one of our proudest traditions," he said.
When pressed on Democrats' criticism of the removal of Haitian migrants and continued use of the Title 42 policy, Mayorkas defended the Biden administration's immigration actions.
"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 said on CNN's 'State of the Union.'