Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned that migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing Cuba and Haiti amid ongoing conflicts will be barred from entering the United States, CBS News reports.
In Cuba, the government has cracked down on a rare mass protest movement prompted by medicine and food shortages. Haiti faces unrest after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Mayorkas said the US has not seen a “surge” in migrants fleeing the two countries by sea but warned that any that try to come will be turned away.
"Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States," said Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba before immigrating to the US in 1960 after Fidel Castro’s takeover.
Mayorkas said that anyone caught by the Coast Guard trying to reach the US by sea will be intercepted and returned to their home countries.
The US has intercepted 470 Cubans and 313 Haitians in the last fiscal year.
Asylum-seekers banned too:
Mayorkas said that those seeking asylum and show that they fear being returned to their home country would be turned away as well.
"If individuals make, establish a well-founded fear of persecution or torture, they are referred to third countries for resettlement," he said. "They will not enter the United States."
The US has long had a policy of turning away migrants traveling by sea but in the past has allowed some migrants to be interviewed by asylum officers at Guantanamo Bay before referring them for resettlement to third countries like Australia.
Mayorkas did not specify which third countries asylum-seekers may be sent to.
Activists slam warning:
Refugee advocates harshly criticized Mayorkas’ comments and argued they undermined a shift to rebuild the refugee program gutted under Trump.
"The U.S. government shouldn't be using this system of off-shore processing to evade our refugee protection laws," Kennji Kizuka, the associate director of research and analysis at Human Rights First, told CBS News. "They should allow people to land in the United States and go through their full asylum proceedings."
Katharina Obser, the acting director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told The Washington Post she was “gravely disappointed” by Mayorkas’ “repeated insistence on rejecting desperate families, children, and single adults from our borders, whether by foot or by sea.”