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DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admits 1 in 5 migrants have an 'illness'

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday he did not expect such a surge in the Delta Covid-19 variant as he admitted that the 'rate of illness' at the southern border is now 20%.   

'What I didn't expect was the tragic rise of the delta variant,' the secretary said at the virtual Immigration Law and Policy Conference Monday afternoon. 'And we took a step back by reason of that. I did not expect to be in late September where we are.'

He said that one in five migrants are showing up at the border with an 'illness.'

'We are confronted with a population of people that, as a general matter, that have a rate of illness of approximately 20%.' 

'When one is speaking of 7,000 or 7,500 people encountered at the border every day, if one takes a look at that the system, it is not built for that in a Covid environment where isolation is required,' Mayorkas said. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been slammed by Republicans after admitting that 12,000 Haitian migrants have been released into the U.S., claiming that number could increase as 5,000 other cases are still being processed

He said that many were willing to endure the 'level of violence' it took to embark on the dangerous journey across Latin America to the US border because of economic desperation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, and compounded by a major earthquake in Haiti last month, and political instability that left Haiti's prime minister assassinated in July.  

It is not clear how the secretary came to the 20% figure, as he has long said DHS does not have the capacity to test every individual arriving at the southern border and relies on local governments and communities for help.  

On Friday, Mayorkas had told reporters that he did not know how many of the nearly 17,000 once camped out under the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas had contracted Covid-19 as DHS was not testing the migrants. 

'We did not test that population of individuals,' Mayorkas said. 'We do not know, I do not know, I should say if I may be perfectly accurate, I do not know if anyone was sick with COVID. We certainly had some people get sick, not with COVID to my knowledge and we addressed their illnesses.' 

He also said Sunday on Fox News that over 12,000 of those migrants had been released into the US, and that number could go up as 5,000 are still being processed. 

Nearly 4,000 were sent away under Title 42, a coronavirus public health order. Mayorkas said that given the 20% 'rate of illness' figure, the Center for Disease Control's Title 42 order was 'quite understandable.' 

He said that DHS had plans in order in case Title 42 is struck down in court, as he again underscored that it was a public health order, not an immigration policy.  

Former President Trump, meanwhile, claimed that the migrants had been released 'with no vetting, checking or even minimal understanding of who they are.' 

'Some are very sick with extremely contagious diseases, even worse than the China Virus. They are not masked or mandated, but just let free to roam all over our Country and affect what was just a year ago, a great Nation.' 

It's not clear what diseases the former president was referring to.  

Photographs show brief moments of normalcy as Haitian migrants try to make their way to the United States.

Images captured Sunday show tourists wondering about a Colombian beach as Haitian migrants play soccer while they wait to embark for the dangerous Darien jungle and begin their journey to the US. 

Some Haitians were seen playing games, including dominoes, with fellow Venezuelan travelers who are also hoping to seek asylum in the U.S.

The newly released images come as thousands more Haitian migrants are embarking on a perilous journey through Latin America to reach the US, after US officials cleared out an encampment nearly 17,000 strong outside Del Rio, Texas last week. 

Up to 4,000 Haitian migrants have already crossed the Darien Gap in Panama along the Colombian border, a roadless, 66-mile stretch of treacherous jungle, Panamanian government sources tell Reuters. Some of them wait in camps in Mexico before continuing their journey.  

Meanwhile, another 16,000 wait at a northern Colombian border town, Necocli, waiting for their shot to jump on a boat to take them to the Darien Gap, where smugglers will guide them north through one of the most inhospitable regions in Latin America.  

Photographs show brief moments of normalcy as Haitian migrants try to make their way to the United States. Tourists are seen wondering about a Colombian beach as migrants play soccer while they wait to embark for the dangerous Darien jungle

Haitian migrants play soccer as they camp on a beach in Necocli, Colombia on September 26

Some Haitians were seen playing games, including dominoes, with fellow Venezuelan travelers who are also hoping to seek asylum in the U.S.

A woman is seen holding a child as she sits at the migrant camp on a beach in Necocli, Colombia

Migrants are seen in the water off of a beach in Necocli as a motor boat passes by

Photographs released Monday show tourists and Haitian migrants share a beach in Necocli, Colombia over the weekend.

Migrants are seen enjoying the beach as they remain stranded waiting for boats to cross into neighboring Panama on their way to the U.S.

They are finding ways to unwind as they wait for space on boats that cross will to the other side of the Gulf of Uraba, the end of Colombia, where some 17,000 people wait to continue their way to North America. 

Only 500 people each day can board on the boats that leave them in Acandi - a town in northern Columbia - to begin their journey through the Darien Gap, which separates Colombia from Panama. 

The photos from the beach paint a strikingly different narrative than images showing caravans of migrants attempting to cross through jungles, rivers and other dangerous conditions.

Migrants are seen relaxing in a hammock in Necocli as they wait for the day when they can embark for the Darien 

Haitian migrants camp on a beach in Necocli, Colombia. Many of them arrived days, even weeks ago, from Chile or Brazil, as part of their route towards the United States

Haitian and Venezuelan migrants play dominoes in Necocli, Colombia on September 26 as they wait for space on the boats that will help them cross to the other side of the Gulf of Uraba

Migrants were seen fishing in Necocli so they can provide meals for their families

A migrant is seen touching a piggy bank in Necocli, Colombia over the weekend

Stranded Venezuelan migrants remain in Necocli, Colombia, on September 24, 2021

Haitian migrants offer support to Venezuelans in Necocli as they all remain stranded waiting for boats to cross into neighboring Panama on their way to the United States

While 16,000 people remain in Necocli waiting for smugglers to help them cross through 'one of the most dangerous and impassable regions of Latin America,' approximately 4,000 migrants have passed through Panama and are en route to the U.S., Reuters reported on Monday.

The group is largely comprised of Haitians, but also includes some people from Cuba, Venezuela and other nations.

Images shared over the weekend show migrants hiking through the jungle and wadding across waters.

Men, women and children were seen carrying their minimal belongings through the treacherous conditions.

Both Colombia and Panama are allowing 500 migrants to cross through their borders each day, a number that is 'far fewer' than the 1,500 arrivals that have been reported daily.

Panama President Laurentino Cortizo announced at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday that more than 80,000 migrants have traveled through the nation this year.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry argued that those numbers would continue because of 'global inequity'. 

'Migration will continue as long as the planet has both wealthy areas, whilst most of the world's population lives in poverty, even extreme poverty, without any prospects of a better life,' he told the U.N. on Saturday. 

Haitian migrants cross the jungle of the Darien Gap, near Acandi, Choco department, Colombia, heading to Panama, on September 26, 2021, as they try to reach the US

Images shared over the weekend show migrants hiking through the jungle and wadding across waters. Men, women and children were seen carrying their minimal belongings through the treacherous conditions

The dangerous trek of at least five days to Panama through the Darien jungle requires migrants to battle snakes, steep ravines, swollen rivers, tropical downpours and criminals often linked to drug trafficking

Both Colombia and Panama are allowing 500 migrants to cross through their borders each day, a number that is 'far fewer' than the 1,500 arrivals that have been reported daily

While 16,000 people remain in Necocli, Colombia waiting for smugglers to help them cross through 'one of the most dangerous and impassable regions of Latin America,' approximately 4,000 migrants have already passed through Panama and are en route to the U.S.

Thousands of migrants continue attempt to make their way from South America to the U.S. borders (Pictured: Migrants crossing the Darien Gap near Acandi)

A group of migrants is seen hiking through the jungle region on Sept. 26, carrying water bottles, sleeping bags and other essential supplies

 A woman helps her child wade through a stream as a group of migrants embarks on a journey through the Darien Gap

Why Haitians are fleeing to America: 

Thousands of Haitians have crossed the border into Texas in weeks and months to seek asylum in America. 

Data released by Border Patrol shows 28,000 Haitians have been arrested along the border this fiscal year, which began last October - dwarfing the 2020 number of 4,395 and 2,046 in 2019. 

Last month alone, 6,768 Haitians were detained by Border Patrol, up from 5,000 in July.  

Most Haitians who have traveled to the border in recent weeks are thought to have already been living in South America after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 which killed over 200,000 people.

Many have then traveled up through Mexico into the US  recently - driven by the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on South America. 

Republicans have argued that the influx of people has also been driven by the pause on deportation flights to Haiti by the Biden administration.  

In May, the Biden administration's DHS designated Haiti for temporary protected status (TPS) as the nation was in the grips of 'human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.'

Under TPS, foreign nationals cannot be deported back to countries hit by natural or manmade disasters, enabling Haitians to live in the US without legal status to qualify for provisional residency. 

Then, in early July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home of Port-au-Prince in a dramatic plot which authorities are yet to determine who the mastermind was.

The murder threw the troubled nation into uncertainty with gun battles breaking out in the streets and a fight over who was the rightful successor as questions continued to mount about a possible inside job. 

This week, Haiti's chief prosecutor said there was evidence linking the country's Prime Minister Ariel Henry to the plot and banned him from leaving the country until he answers questions about his potential involvement.

One month after the assassination, the island nation was dealt another blow as a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck in August. More than 2,200 people were killed and 100,000 homes destroyed. 

In August, Biden extended and expanded the TPS further. While it only applies to Haitians already residing in the US, critics argue many have traveled there believing they can seek asylum.

Former ICE Director Tom Homan accused Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of misleading the public after the Biden official finally said 12,000 Haitian migrants have been released into the U.S. 

'It's much more than that and he knows that,' Homan said.

In an interview with Fox on Monday morning, the Trump-era immigration official said Mayorkas underestimated the number of migrants successfully crossing the southwest border because he didn't account for people who were never confronted by border agents and so are harder to track down.

'When he said the 8,000 will return to Mexico, went back to Mexico, he realizes they went one or two miles down the line and came into the United States because they surged so many resources to Del Rio they left 220 miles of border unguarded,' he said.

Many of the thousands who crossed the border over the last week have temporarily settled at an encampment under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Around 30,000 Haitians traveled to the border city in the last month, the Biden administration admitted.

Roughly 12,400 Haitian migrants are waiting to have their cases heard by immigration judges, while 5,000 are being processed by DHS and 3,000 are in detention. 

On Monday morning Homan accused Mayorkas of lying again over the 12,400 figure.

'When you say 12,000 are in immigration proceedings, they are not. That's what the secretary leads you to believe,' he said.

He said many of those thousands of migrants were given a 'Notice to Report' which means they would only be in that judicial pipeline if they 'voluntarily show up and turn themselves in' - and Homan believes they won't. 

A Notice to Appear is typically the first step in the court system that leads to deportation. A 10-day window is usually the wait time between being served an NTA and the first court hearing date, but migrants can apply to extend the requirement, like if they are in ICE custody. 

However, under the Biden administration, Border Patrol has been giving migrants a 'Notice to Report.' That document provides a 60-day window during which migrants have to turn themselves in to an ICE office, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

Those who don't show up within the 60-day window can then be subjected to an NTA, if ICE tracks them down. 

'It clearly says at the bottom of the form, 'You are not in immigration proceedings. You won't be detailed, ICE is not going to detain you for humanitarian reasons,' Homan claimed. 

'So the secretary is misleading on what he told Chris Wallace.' 

Mayorkas, said at Monday's conference he did not agree that this constituted a loosening of interior immigration enforcement. 'What I would say is we are implementing fairness and justice in the interior enforcement.'   

Also speaking to Fox on Monday, House Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California warned the crisis in Afghanistan and escape of 5,000 prisoners held by the U.S. and Afghan government there could compound the worsening border crisis. 

'The world knows the place to come into America is just to travel to Mexico and walk directly across the border,' McCarthy said. 'The scariest part is Democrats ignore the problems they ignite.' 

He agreed with Homan's accusation that Mayorkas misled Americans.  

'They told us they were going to send these people back to try and stop the flow. But we learn this Sunday we were lied to,' McCarthy said.

'This has got to stop, but it's the way the administration handles every crisis - they ignore it.' 

In his Sunday interview, Mayorkas acknowledged that some of the thousands of migrants who had been camped out under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas, had not been tested for Covid-19.  

Lance Gooden was among the Republican's to hit out at Mayorkas' handling of the border crisis.

'Why hasn't Mayorkas been FIRED?,' the Texas congressman wrote in a tweet, detailing the Homeland Security chief's recent admissions.

Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, also criticised Mayorkas, apparently comparing the release of untested Haitians to an incident in which a mother claimed her child was kicked off a flight from Colorado to New Jersey for not wearing a mask.

'Two-year-olds are getting forced off planes for not wearing masks while Mayorkas just released 12,000+ illegals into the country without so much as a COVID test. 

Senator Ted Cruz also slammed what he called 'Bizarro-world Biden rules' in a tweet.

He wrote that for American citizens, the rule is to 'get the vaccine or you're fired' but for 'illegal immigrants' it's 'no testing, no vaccines & being sent to every community in America!'

When asked by Fox how many of the group under the bridge - which official figures put at 15,000 at its peak - had been tested for coronavirus, Mayorkas insisted the administration was following 'strict Covid testing protocols'.    

'We test, isolate, and quarantine unaccompanied children. We work with nonprofit organizations to test families,' he said.

'Those who are in ICE custody are tested, isolated, and quarantined. Those who are expelled under the Title 42 Public Health Authority are returned immediately. They are not placed in immigration court proceedings, and those we do not test, because they are returned immediately.'

When asked how many of the group who were living in cramped conditions under the bridge had tested positive for the virus, Mayorkas said he did not know.  

Haitians are attempting to reach the U.S. even after 12 deportation flights returned some of the new arrivals to Haiti. Pictured: Haitian migrants cross the jungle of the Darien Gap, near Acandi, Colombia en route to Panama on Sunday

'We did not test that population of individuals,' Mayorkas said. 'We do not know, I do not know, I should say if I may be perfectly accurate, I do not know if anyone was sick with COVID. 

'We certainly had some people get sick, not with COVID to my knowledge and we addressed their illnesses.'

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has been ravaged by two major earthquakes, one in 2010 and one in August this year that killed more than 2,000 people. 

The Caribbean island has also been beset by political instability, which was made worse when President Jovenal Moise was assassinated in July.         

On Sunday, Mayorkas continued to downplay the massive southern border crisis, saying these migrations are 'nothing new' and telling Fox he wouldn't classify the crossing as a 'flood' of people.

Another caravan of Haitian migrants are making the long trek to the U.S. to claim asylum. Here a group walks toward the border of Panama from Colombia on Saturday

Haitian migrants sail on Saturday from Colombia to Panama as another caravan makes its way to the U.S. southern border amid an already overwhelming surge

The area where the encampment of Haitian migrants stood just days early is seen empty on Saturday, allowing the Del Rio Port of Entry to reopen after being closed for a week

Almost all of the mostly Haitian migrants who set up camp near the Del Rio International Bridge this month left as of Saturday 

He did, however, acknowledge that the U.S. immigration system needed to be reformed.

'Eleven million people in this country without lawful presence is a compelling reason why there is unanimity about the fact that our immigration system is broken and legislative reform is needed,' Mayorkas said.

He added when asked about the surge: 'I wouldn't call it a flood.'

Partial information was released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week about the status of the thousands of mostly Haitian migrants who crossed into Del Rio, Texas over the last few weeks.

Those figures, however, only accounted for only 10,000 migrants – meaning at least another 5,000 people were unaccounted for.

The information DHS did release on Thursday showed that 1,401 migrants were sent back to Haiti on 12 different flights, 3,206 remained in custody, and 5,000 were still camped out beneath the Del Rio International Bridge.

'Why didn't you stop them from coming into the country?' Fox host Chris Wallace asked Mayorkas on Sunday.

'We did. We encountered them as they gathered – they assembled in that one location in Del Rio, Texas, and we applied the laws,' he responded.

'My question is why did you allow them in the country in the first place?' Wallace clarified. 'Why didn't you build – forgive me, a wall or a fence to stop them from walking – this flood of people coming across the dam, it looks like a highway that allows them to cross the Rio Grande.'

Mayorkas responded: 'It is the policy of this administration – we do not agree with the building of the wall. The law provides that individuals can make a claim for humanitarian relief.'

'That is actually one of our proudest traditions,' he added.

Migrants cross a river on horse-drawn wagons on Saturday as they head for the northern border Colombia shares with Panama

Migrants walk toward the border where they will wait in port town of Acandi, Colombia where they will wait for a boat to take them north so they can continue the dangerous trek to the U.S. 

Many of these mostly Haitian migrants get stranded in the Colombia port awaiting a boat out to cross into neighboring Panama to make their way to the U.S. to claim asylum

Migrants set up a makeshift camp on Saturday evening as they travel to the northern-est border of Colombia to await boat transportation to Panama

Many Haitian migrants who have been camped out in South and Central American countries for months - and some for years – claim they now feel it's time to make the trek to the U.S. due to a perception that President Biden's immigration policies will be more favorable than those of former president Donald Trump.

Even though Mayorkas and the administration insist the border is 'closed,' migrants can cross the border and claim asylum, which kicks off a process that can allow them to remain in the U.S. while their case is being considered.

Last weekend, DHS ramped up deportation efforts by beginning removal flights back to Haiti.

This caused many migrants to trek back into Mexico from Del Rio to avoid deportation to their homeland, but the vast majority of people are still in the U.S. and – it is now known – have been released from custody.

Customs and Border Protection garnered an immense amount of backlash for carrying out the deportation and deterrence efforts after images emerged of agents on horseback appearing to use reins as whips against the migrants.

Included in the backlash was Representative Maxine Waters of California who claimed the 'whipping' images are 'worse than slavery' and fellow black Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who suggested the actions were counterintuitive to the Black Lives Matter movement as they were used on black Haitian migrants.

Haitian migrants walk on Saturday as they make their way to the transport point to Panama

In response, the White House announced on Thursday that it would no longer allow Border Patrol agents in Del Rio to ride on horseback. Mayorkas also announced that the agents in the images had been reassigned to administrative duties while an investigation into their actions is carried out.

Agents have said they were using the split reins to direct their horses or to ward off immigrants – not to whip them.

The photographer who took the images of the agents on horseback, Paul Ratje, said that he did not witness any agents use reins to whip migrants.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday offered those federal agents facing reprimanding a job in the Lone Star State protecting its border with Mexico.

'Are you at all troubled by the images of these officers on horseback very aggressively pushing back on the Haitian immigrants coming across?' Fox News Chris Wallace asked Abbott on Fox News Sunday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered on Sunday to give the federal agents jobs in his state protecting the border if they are fired

'Several quick points. First, they wouldn't have been in that situation had the Biden administration enforced the immigration laws and secured the border in the first place,' Abbott shot back. 

'Second, as you know, Chris, the person who took those pictures said that the characterization that the Democrats have made about the Border Patrol using them as whips, whipping people who were coming across the border is false. They were simply maneuvering horses.'

'But the last thing I will tell you is what the president said, going after the Border Patrol, who were risking their lives and working so hard to try to secure the border, if he takes any action against them whatsoever, I have worked side-by-side with those Border Patrol agents,' Abbott continued.

'I want them to know something. If they are at risk of losing their job at a (sic) president who is abandoning his duty to secure the border, you have a job in the state of Texas,' he said. 'I will hire you to help Texas secure our border.

President Joe Biden 'promised' last week that 'those people will pay,' when talking about his border enforcement agents who were pictured on horseback.  

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