WASHINGTON - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought on Sunday to fend off criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border, specifically Haitian migrants who had been encamped underneath 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," said Mayorkas on 'Meet the Press' commenting on the efficacy of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
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 United States from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and 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 mostly Haitians being chased and intimidated by immigration officers on horseback "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 the horses will no longer be used by Border Patrol officers in Del Rio, Texas, and an investigation will continue into the incident.
Mayorkas defended the horseback training by CBP officers, saying horse patrol "serves an incredibly important function," but would not comment directly in regards to 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 that country is dealing with a humanitarian crisis following 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.
Mayorkas announced on Friday the Haitian migrants had been removed from underneath the bridge and either deported to Haiti or placed in immigration proceedings.
Of the approximately 15,000 migrants who arrived at the border in recent days, 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 that allows the administration to swiftly expel migrants.
An additional 12,400 will remain in the country and have their asylum cases heard by a judge because of exemptions in that policy, which include those who have an "acute vulnerability," like needing urgent medical care, or because of "operational capacity," Mayorkas previously said.
On Sunday, Mayorkas said 5,000 migrants were still being processed by DHS and defended the potential of thousands of migrants staying 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," said Mayorkas on 'Fox News Sunday.'
When asked why the administration did not build a barrier, such as a wall, to keep migrants out of the U.S., 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.'