Cuban-born Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday delivered a clear message to the Cuban and Haitian people amid upheaval in both Caribbean nations: Do not come to the United States.
“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” Mayorkas said in a press conference at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. “To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking.”
“Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
Mayorkas’ message comes amid continued protests in Cuba calling for the end of the 62-year-old dictatorship and the recent assassination of the president of Haiti.
The Biden administration has expressed solidarity with the thousands of Cubans protesting on the communist-run island, but so far has not shared any concrete plans or policy to help them. On Sunday, a delegation of U.S. officials traveled to Haiti to discuss the Haitian government’s ask for U.S. assistance following the president’s assassination.
Many migrants attempting to reach the United States by sea have died on the dangerous trek over the years. In recent weeks, 20 migrants have died at sea, Mayorkas said.
So far, the U.S. has not seen a surge in Cuban or Haitian migrants by sea, Mayorkas said. But the U.S. Coast Guard has deployed officials to monitor the situation by air and sea in the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea, he said.
“Any migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of their nationality, will not be permitted to enter the United States,” Mayorkas said.
In fiscal 2021, 470 Cubans and 313 Haitians have been intercepted at sea, compared to 49 Cubans and 430 Haitians in fiscal 2020, Mayorkas said.
In May, Mayorkas announced the designation of temporary protected status for Haiti, a designation that allows Haitians who were present in the U.S. at the time of the announcement to be granted legal status for 18 months. Mayorkas emphasized on Tuesday that TPS for Haitians “is not an immigration program” and only benefits those already in the U.S. in May.
The Biden administration is “assessing” parole programs that would help Cubans and Haitians in their home countries who want to migrate, Mayorkas said, pointing out that the Trump administration ended those programs. President Joe Biden on the campaign trail promised to reinstate the Cuban family reunification parole program, but six months into his term has not done so.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have expressed concern that the Cuban government will begin to encourage mass migration to the United States as it did in 1994, when Cuba last saw large-scale protests. However, U.S.-Cuba experts say that level of migration by sea is less likely to happen this time around, given that Washington no longer has an immigration policy in place that welcomes Cubans when they reach U.S. soil.