Mayorkas: Title 42 'is not an immigration policy that we in this administration would embrace'

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told Yahoo News Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff that “it’s a heartbreaking thing to see” asylum seekers continuing to be turned away from the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump-era Title 42 authority. During the discussion, which was originally broadcast as part of the Soufan Center’s 2021 Global Security Forum in Doha, Qatar, Mayorkas added that Title 42 “is not an immigration policy that we in this administration would embrace, but we view it as a public health imperative as the Centers for Disease Control has so ordered.”

Video Transcript

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: A senior State Department official who just left his role in the Biden administration said that the administration's use of Title 42 to evict Haitians who had come-- thousands of Haitians-- who came to this country and fly them back to Haiti was illegal, inhumane, and not worthy of this administration. "I believe this administration's current implementation of Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture." You are a refugee yourself. You and your family came from Cuba. When you hear words like that from a member of the administration, what goes through your mind? And what do you have to say to Harold Koh, who was the State Department official-- former State Department official-- who wrote that memo.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: So let me, I'll answer that question quite directly. Let me first just set the table a little bit. Because with respect to the Haitians in particular, the exercise of the government's authority has drawn two criticisms. One is the use of Title 42, which is a Centers for Disease Control public health authority, number one. And number two, we've received criticism for the fact that on top of the fact that we are exercising that CDC Title 42 authority, we're returning individuals to Haiti. And there's a great concern has been articulated that Haiti does not have the capacity to receive them safely. So we've been subject to two very profound criticisms with respect to the Haitian population specifically.

I want to make it clear, though, that the criticism of Title 42 is not specific to the Haitian population, but, frankly, across the southern border where that authority has been exercised as to the irregular migration, the individuals encountered in between the ports of entry regardless of country of origin. And the Title 42 authority is a public health authority. And it is not an immigration policy. It is not an immigration policy that we in this administration would embrace. But we view it as a public health imperative as the Centers for Disease Control has so ordered.

We're in the midst of a pandemic. For anyone to think it's business as usual I think would be, frankly, ignoring a pandemic that has taken more than 700,000 American lives. It is not Harold Koh's statements that troubled me. It is quite frankly, Michael, a visit to the border in Del Rio, Texas and to see of the migrants and to understand in person that a number of them, a material percentage of them, will, in fact, be expelled under the Title 42 authority and these are individuals who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

It's a heartbreaking thing to see. I don't need anyone to share words to explain to me what that heartbreak is and what it means. But this is what is necessary as a matter of public health imperative as ordered by the Centers for Disease Control. And that is the authority we're executing.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: When I believe when I asked you about this back in June, you indicated that the administration was reviewing whether to maintain Title 42 and continuing evictions on that basis. It sounds like from what you've just said that the administration has reviewed it and it's sticking with Title 42, had no plans at the moment to lift that.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: So, look, it's a temporal assessment. It's a public health-driven analysis that we ourselves in the Department don't conduct but the Centers for Disease Controls conducts. And we were, in fact, reviewing it. And then the arc of the pandemic, in light of the Delta variant, a changed or impacted the landscape, the data, the need for that authority. And we'll see what the upcoming weeks and months bring. I think we are unanimous in the fact that we hope public health authorities are no longer necessary because we have the pandemic behind us. But that is not where we are. That is not where we--

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes, I think the most recent figures is over the last fiscal year, something like 1.6 million border apprehensions were recorded. That's a 20-year high. You get it from all sides, those who say you're being inhumane and those are saying you've been too lenient. Why has the flow of people trying to get across the border illegally continued at a 20-year high level?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: So, certainly have read a great deal about this. And there are many different theories. I think that pieces of the many different theories compiled together form a very compelling answer. The downturn in economies, the attendant rise in violence, the downturn in economies made more acute by reason of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the suppression of any humanitarian relief over the past number of years, and the pent-up thirst for relief among many different populations. I think an accumulation of factors contributes to the rise in migration that we've seen.