Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday vowed to turn away Cuban and Haitian refugees who attempt to arrive in the US by boat amid crises in their countries.
“Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States,” Mayorkas said at a news conference.
Cuba on Sunday had its largest protests in decades, with citizens denouncing the Communist leadership and a lack of food and COVID-19 vaccines. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated last week, sparking a political crisis.
The DHS secretary said the Coast Guard is monitoring the waters around Florida and Puerto Rico and that “any migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of their nationality, will not be permitted to enter the United States.”
Instead, sea migrants will either be returned to their home country or sent to a third country if they make a credible claim of “fear of persecution or torture.”
Mayorkas, whose family fled Cuba in 1960 when he was a baby, said that so far there hasn’t been a surge in boat refugees from the countries. Only 470 Cubans and 313 Haitians have been intercepted aboard boats and rafts in fiscal 2021. There were 49 Cubans and 430 Haitians intercepted in fiscal 2020.
Cuban American voters in Florida helped former President Donald Trump easily carry the state last year after he claimed repeatedly that Democratic policies could turn the US into a socialist country like the one they left.
Mayorkas spoke to discourage migration by sea as the Biden administration grapples with a crisis along the US-Mexico border driven by families and children from Central America.
The number of US-Mexico border detentions hit a 21-year monthly high of more than 180,000 in May. Nearly 179,000 people were detained in April and more than 173,000 were intercepted in March.
Republicans argue that President Biden’s policies are to blame for that crisis — a stance also taken by Guatemala’s president as well as Mexico’s president.
Biden backs bills to legalize most illegal immigrants, canceled construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall and ended the “Remain in Mexico” policy that required Central Americans to remain in Mexico while US courts reviewed claims of persecution.