The Biden administration on Friday confirmed that a makeshift camp where 15,000 Haitian migrants braved desperate conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border was now vacant.
"As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a White House briefing.
Mayorkas spoke hours after President Joe Biden took full responsibility for an incident earlier this week in which U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback aggressively confronted migrants, saying it was horrible to see people being “treated like they did.”
“Of course, I take responsibility. I'm president," Biden said, adding there would be an investigation and consequences for Border Patrol officers whose actions drew widespread condemnation.
“It's an embarrassment. But beyond embarrassment, it is dangerous. It's wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. … It's simply not who we are,” he said.
The president’s comments came near the end of a week that plunged the administration into crisis mode over U.S. treatment of the Haitians who had gathered at the border town of Del Rio, Texas.
While international attention has only recently been focused on the Haitians’ plight, Mayorkas said U.S. authorities had encountered a far larger number of Haitian nationals at Del Rio spanning a longer period of time.
“Nearly 30,000 migrants have been encountered at Del Rio since September 9, with the highest number one time reaching approximately 15,000,” the DHS secretary said.
Mayorkas indicated that, of the 30,000, roughly 12,400 were eligible to seek asylum in the United States. Some 5,000 others in U.S. custody could be expelled under a rule that mandates swift removal of migrants during the coronavirus pandemic.
The secretary said roughly 2,000 migrants had been flown back to Haiti and that 8,000 others had returned voluntarily to Mexico.
Overall, Mayorkas said the situation that evolved at Del Rio “was the result of an unprecedented movement of a very large number of people traveling to a single point of the border within a matter of a few days.” He added that the U.S. government responded with a “surge” of resources to address the humanitarian needs of the migrants, including families with young children.
The administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants has provoked fierce outcries from the administration's political allies and adversaries alike. Ambassador Daniel Foote, who served as U.S. special envoy to Haiti since July, submitted his resignation on Wednesday to protest the Biden administration’s repatriation of migrants.
Foote said the U.S. approach to Haiti "remains deeply flawed,” adding that his advice had been "ignored and dismissed" in Washington "when not edited to project a different narrative from my own."
State Department spokesperson Ned Price denied Foote's complaints, saying Foote’s views "were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process. Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false."
While many have expressed revulsion over the tactics Border Patrol agents deployed against Haitian migrants, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had a different take.
“God bless the men and women of our Border Patrol who are being asked to do the impossible,” Graham tweeted. “All the while they are being scapegoated and demagogued by the most incompetent Administration in modern American history.”
Graham called on Mayorkas to resign, saying America’s border was being “surrendered.”