Sep 20, 2021
DSH Secretary Mayorkas Addresses Haitian Migrants Del Rio Press Conference Transcript
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas held a press conference in Del Rio, Texas on September 20 to address the increase in migrants looking to enter the U.S. Read the transcript of the briefing speech here.
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Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (00:02)
Good afternoon. Thank you very much for being here. Today, I’m on the ground in Del Rio, Texas today, where I have received an operational briefing and seen firsthand the steps being taken to address the recent increase in migrant encounters. I first want to thank the United States Border Patrol, led by Chief Raul Ortiz, a native of Del Rio, for responding to this challenging and heartbreaking situation. I’m grateful for the Chief’s extraordinary leadership. I also want to welcome, of course, Commissioner Troy Miller, who’s been leading the US Customs and Border Protection since January 20th and has been doing an extraordinary job. We are in the midst of a pandemic and a critical migration challenge. We continue to exercise the Centers for Disease Control’s Title 42 authority. Title 42 is not an immigration authority, but a public health authority to protect the American public, to protect the communities along the border and to protect the migrants themselves.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (01:16)
I want to share with you some of the steps we are taking to address the current situation here in Del Rio. CBP has surged 600 agents, officers and DHS volunteer force personnel to the Del Rio sector to enhance our operational capabilities. If additional staff is needed, more will be sent. Border Patrol is coordinating with ICE and the US Coast Guard to move individuals from Del Rio to other processing locations, including approximately 3,500 over the last few days and 3,000 today, in order to ensure that migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed and removed from the United States, consistent with our laws and policies. We, in DHS, are securing additional transportation to accelerate the pace and increase the capacity of removal flights to Haiti and other destinations in the Western Hemisphere. We are working to increase the capacity of return flights to Haiti and other destinations. We anticipate at least one to three flights per day.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (02:29)
The Biden Administration is working with source and transit countries in the region to accept individuals who previously resided in those countries. We are undertaking urgent humanitarian actions with other relevant federal, state and local partners to reduce crowding and improve conditions for migrants on United States soil. DHS has already taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and security of individuals as they await processing, including having Border Patrol emergency medical technicians on hand and providing water, towels and portable toilets. This is all part of an all-of-government and whole-of-community effort. We have brought in personnel from the Department of Health and Human Services to address medical needs and supplies. We’ve also worked with the American Red Cross to bring in supplies and much needed resources to the population. We have worked with the World Central Kitchen to bring in meals for the migrants.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (03:32)
Not only do we leverage the resources and capabilities of the Department of Homeland Security, we look across the federal government and in partnership with civil society, local resources to see what we can do to bring more capabilities to bear to meet the challenge and that is indeed what we are doing here. Finally, the White House is directed appropriate US agencies to work with the Haitian and other regional governments to provide assistance and support to returnees. The majority of migrants continue to be expelled under CDC’s Title 42 authority. Those who cannot be expelled under that authority and do not have a legal basis to remain, will be placed in expedited removal proceedings. DHS is conducting regular expulsion and removal flights to Haiti, Mexico, Ecuador, and Northern Triangle countries.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (04:31)
We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open or that temporary protected status is available. I want to make sure that it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States. That is false information. Irregular migration poses a serious security risk to the migrants themselves. Trying to enter the United States illegally is not worth the tragedy, the money, or the effort.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (05:08)
As we have said consistently, since we published the Federal Register Notice officially designating Haiti for Temporary Protected Status or TPS, only Haitians living in the United States before July, 29th are eligible for temporary protected status. We have reiterated that our borders are not open and people should not make the dangerous journey. Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion. Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of border of communities and to the lives of the migrants themselves, and should not be attempted. If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives. This Administration is committed to developing safe, orderly, and humane pathways for migration, but this is not the way to do it. Thank you. It is my pleasure to introduce Commissioner Troy Miller, of the United States Border Protection.
Commissioner Troy Miller: (06:26)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for joining us here today, and importantly, thank you for what you’ve done over the last several days to elevate the work that we’re doing since this group of migrants began arriving in Del Rio. Your leadership has ensured that DHS could count on a whole-of-government approach as not just a buzzword, it means that the federal government is engaged and mobilizing the necessary resources to process the migrants arriving here at Del Rio quickly, humanely and maintain the safety of everyone involved. I can’t say thank you enough to the state, local and NGO partners that are also here with us. Once again, everybody’s come together to assist in addressing the needs of the local communities while also addressing the challenging situations we face together. I thank you for everyone’s hard work.
Commissioner Troy Miller: (07:20)
I also want to thank my colleague, Board Patrol Chief, Ortiz. Chief took the helm a few short weeks ago, and just in time to lead this important effort in his hometown. The Chief will give additional operational details in just a minute. I want to thank the CBP workforce who continue to rally to every situation and challenge we face. I am proud to work alongside the dedicated and resilient men and women of CBP every single day, who serve this country with relentless determination and integrity. Finally, I want to stress something important, CBP’s message for anyone thinking of entering the United States illegally along the Southern border is clear and simple. Our borders are not open. Entering the country illegally is a dangerous undertaking. Don’t put your life, or put your family safety in the hands of smugglers or other criminals who will tell you that our borders are open. Don’t do it. With that, I want to turn it over to US Border Patrol Chief, Raul Ortiz.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (08:38)
Thank you, sir. Good morning. Thank you Acting Commissioner Miller and Secretary Mayorkas for the support you provided so we can get these resources moved in here as quickly as we have. The coordination within CBP, throughout DHS and across the federal government is key to our response. This really has been a whole-of-government approach as I’ve never seen before. That means it has included our state, local and NGO partners, and certainly the communities that have come together and worked long hours to address this situation here in Del Rio, Texas. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (09:15)
Also, want to talk a little bit about, what we have mobilized as the Commissioner and the Secretary mentioned, 600 agents, that includes customs officers and border patrol agents, mobile field force-trained individuals, and DHS volunteer force personnel to the Del Rio sector to improve control of the situation underneath this bridge. We prioritize surging medical support personnel and have expanded the scope and scale of medical support on the ground.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (09:47)
This includes the CBP EMTs, DHS volunteer force members, as well as personnel from across the federal government, to include the HHS Disaster Medical Assistance team who arrived this morning and are continuing to provide services to the migrants. This also includes the San Antonio Fire Department. They sent personnel to assist us and we want to thank all of these partners for the assistance as we provide integrated, onsite medical service and try to reduce the strain on the local community. Together our teams have been able to handle most medical concerns while continue to stay in touch with local health systems on issues that may require additional medical care at a facility here in Del Rio. The Del Rio port of entry remains closed. Traffic is being rerouted from Del Rio to Eagle Pass to more effectively manage resources and ensure uninterrupted flow of trade and travel.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (10:49)
I said yesterday, US Border Patrol is coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Coast Guard to move individuals from Del Rio to other processing locations within Texas, including 2,500 on Sunday. DHS is also working to accelerate and increase the frequency and capacity of Title 42 flights to expel individuals to Haiti and other countries of origin. We’re achieving our goals. We’re getting there and getting to a point where we can manage a population here. We are already seeing it quickly diminish and will continue to see that over the coming days. I talked yesterday about how so much of this migration is driven through social media and word of mouth and smugglers are significant drivers of the misinformation that gets people to undertake these dangerous journeys. Smugglers continue to recklessly endanger lives of individuals they exploit for their own financial gain. Many of these migrants cross through remote, harsh terrain and unpredictable weather to get this far. Many likely didn’t make it.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (12:01)
The smugglers leverage misinformation to mislead people. Some of that information is focused on the TPS. Let’s be clear, only those individuals living in the United States prior to July 29th are eligible for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. No one who arrived here this past week will be eligible to get TPS. So here’s a fact, we are still enforcing the CDC Title 42 order and those attempting irregular migration here will not be allowed to enter the United States. They will be removed and sent back to their country of origin as mandated under current laws. I also want to stress that for those being removed to Haiti, our partners at the State Department are working to ensure that there is adequate support when they arrive in Haiti. But the message is clear, do not attempt the journey. All of you covering here for the media, you’re crucial to getting this message out, that the smugglers are unscrupulous and the misinformation is wrong. Our borders are not open and people should not make the journey. Thank you for being here.
It’s time for a few questions, Vanessa, do you have one? Go ahead.
Oh yes. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary for being here. My question is in regards to… Thank you for what you’re doing right now, we see a lot of action right now, but this took four to five days. Why did it take so long if those numbers continued to grow and you knew they were coming?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (13:39)
So the volume of people was rather sudden, rather dramatic, very quick. We surge resources, according to the pace.
Speaker 6: (13:49)
Mr. Secretary, [crosstalk 00:13:50] with ABC News, may I ask you, how do you respond to those who say that these Haitian immigrant are being sent back to some really bad conditions, faster than others who have illegally entered this country?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (14:01)
So that is factually inaccurate. Let me say something with respect to the fact that individuals are being returned to Haiti specifically. What we did is we studied the country conditions in Haiti to determine whether Temporary Protected Status was warranted. When we were going to publish the Federal Register Notice announcing TPS several months ago, the tragic assassination of the Haitian leader occurred. We withheld publication of that notice to see what the country conditions would be following the assassination, what the level and extent and duration of any unsettlement was. We watched that we saw a new government take power. We published accordingly the Federal Register Notice and announced that TPS was available for people in the United States as of July 29th.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (14:57)
We were accommodating to the conditions in the country as is our legal obligation to do so. We then saw the tragic and devastating earthquake in Haiti. That earthquake, as tragic and devastating as it is and was, is distinct from the January 10th, 2010 earthquake that was not as geographically limited as this one is. We made an assessment, based on the country conditions, as we are required to do, that a redesignation of Haiti was not warranted on the facts, on the conditions in Haiti. That Haiti could in fact receive individuals safely. TPS is available to those who have been in the United States before July 29th and that is not changing.
Speaker 11: (15:54)
Secretary? [inaudible 00:15:54] with CBS [inaudible 00:15:54]. Thanks for being here. I just wanted to piggy back bit a little bit on what my colleague mentioned here. She mentioned in the past couple of days, but for many of us who’ve been reporting on the situation for months now, we know that border officials have been setting off alarms, sending red flags to Washington saying, “We need help. We need help.” Why is it taking so long for you all to dedicate this amount of attention and resources to the border, finally, after we see what’s happening in that bridge?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (16:15)
As I mentioned before, the surge in resources has been commensurate with the surge in migration.
Speaker 7: (16:31)
[crosstalk 00:16:31] National News. Welcome! Welcome to the border.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (16:33)
Speaker 7: (16:34)
I’m going to ask you, after you saw what you saw what occurred in the shelter under the bridge, what impacted you the most? Is there a way that you think this could not replicate if we have heard there are groups, similar to this one coming to the [crosstalk 00:16:49] in the next few days.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (16:51)
So, let me answer the second part of your question first. Then the profound question you posed at the outset. We are communicating as we have now for months, loudly and clearly, that irregular migration, the perilous journey is not the journey to take. One risks one’s life, the life of one’s loved ones for a mission that will not succeed. We have been, we are, and we will continue to exercise the Public Health Authority of the Centers for Disease Control, in light of the fact that this country and this world is confronting a pandemic, number one.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (17:37)
Number two, I saw many different things when I visited the bridge earlier today, it’s not the first time that I’ve visited the bridge during my tenure. First and foremost, let me speak of the heartbreak, because it is tragic to see families, vulnerable individuals, who’ve been deceived by treacherous and exploitative smuggling organizations. It is tragic, and it is heartbreaking. I also see, once again, the heroic work of the United States Border Patrol, of field operations, of our state and local partners and everyone in civil society also, coming to the rescue, to address the needs of this population as we execute our border authorities, as we are required to do, to meet the challenge.
Speaker 8: (18:33)
[crosstalk 00:18:33] Mr. Secretary, can you describe the conditions currently? As of Saturday and Sunday, people were able to stream somewhat at will back and forth. The dam is now closed, but further down river, folks have been able to technically go back and forth. Do we have operational control of this stretch of the border?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (18:53)
We do. The decision with respect to the movement of people is a calculated decision to meet the operational needs and to serve our operational control.
Speaker 9: (19:03)
Speaker 10: (19:13)
Mr. Secretary. Marsha?
Speaker 11: (19:14)
Mr. Secretary, so you;ve stated repeatedly that this is a challenge, but last month you were recorded privately saying that what’s been happening along the border is unsustainable and admitting that there’s a crisis. So I’m asking, would you publicly admit right now that [crosstalk 00:19:30].
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (19:30)
I’m going to stop right there. Let me just say very clearly. We are focused on meeting the challenge. We are focused on mission.
Speaker 12: (19:41)
Is this surge any different than what we’ve seen in the RGV? What’s different about in particular surge? [crosstalk 00:19:50].
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (19:50)
Oh, I’m sorry. [crosstalk 00:19:51]. I didn’t mean to interrupt, please. This is certainly distinct from the other large movements of migrants that we have observed and to which we’ve responded. I’m going to let the Chief Ortiz provide more detail.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (20:05)
As most of y’all know, I was the Deputy and the Chief in RGV for five and a half years. So the big difference is, one, this is a much smaller community than the Rio Grand Valley. So the capacity, both of the CBP and some of the other agencies and partners is much smaller. Secondly, this was a very rapid surge across the border. What we see in RGV, which continues to be the busiest place in the country has been steady throughout the year. But Del Rio over the last six or seven months has seen an uptick in traffic and we continue to move resources into the area, but more importantly than this, they concentrated in one location. In South Texas, they spread out over multiple locations and so that is the primary difference between the two.
We have time for two more. Sandra and then over here?
Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, could you respond to the Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s letters sent to the Biden Administration today requesting a federal declination for emergency be declared for the entire State of Texas, based on what’s happening?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (21:09)
So we evaluate requests for such a declaration based on the facts on the ground. We will treat this request no differently.
Speaker 14: (21:24)
Hi, Mr. Secretary [inaudible 00:21:26] images have come out of border patrol agents [inaudible 00:21:30] Haitian immigrants. My question to you, do you think that’s a humane way to treat migrants?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (21:36)
You are assuming facts, if I may say respectfully, you are assuming facts that have not yet been determined. Chief Ortiz is an experienced border patrol agent who has ridden horses, trained others to ride horses, can provide greater detail on the specifics.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (21:57)
I will tell you that the horse patrol units down here are going to play an integral part in the security response. As you know, we have about half of this area locked down, and we’re working on trying to get the other side of the bridge completely locked down. So what I asked our horse patrol units to do yesterday, is to do an assessment and find out if we had any individuals in distress and to be able to provide information and intelligence as to what the smuggling organizations were doing in and around river.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (22:29)
As was witnessed in the video and some of the pictures, the migrants were going back and forth. We do not know who are the smugglers or who are the migrants. So it’s important that those border patrol agents maintain a level of security for both themselves and for the migrant population, as they were trafficking back and forth.
Chief Raul Ortiz: (22:47)
But as the Secretary mentioned, I’ve ridden horses for several years. Operating in the riverine environment on horseback is a difficult situation and trying to maintain control of those horses, so we do not get in a position where we injure a migrant, as they’re trying to make that treacherous track across that river, is probably more important than anything and I’m pretty sure and confident that that’s exactly what was happening. But we will certainly look into the matter to make sure that we do not have any activity that could be construed as a response to a law enforcement effort, that is unacceptable. Thank you!
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (23:28)
Just to add, because Chief Ortiz explained to me that to ensure control of the horse, long reigns are used, but we are going to investigate the facts to ensure that the situation is, as we understand it to be. If it’s anything different, we will respond accordingly.
We can take one more from our young girl left over here and then Secretary, you can close it out.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (23:52)
That could be any number of you.
Speaker 15: (23:53)
[crosstalk 00:23:53] Department of Defense, law enforcement is overwhelmed here, so do you plan on asking [inaudible 00:24:07]?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (24:07)
So it’s a very good question, because in fact, the approach has been in all of federal government effort and frankly in all of federal government effort, in partnership with state and local authorities and with civil society. The Department of Defense is evaluating a request for assistance and we hope that will come to fruition very shortly.
Any closing remarks?
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: (24:33)
We just want to thank you for being here. This is a very difficult situation for us. It is extraordinarily challenging. As I said, at the outset, it is very, very heartbreaking. We are meeting the challenge. We are addressing the vulnerabilities of the individuals. We are surging resources, not only to ensure the security of this area, the security of the community, but also the wellbeing of the migrants themselves to address their needs, their food needs, their water needs, their medical needs and any other needs that they might have. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much!