Sunday, May 28, 2023

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas at a Joint Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, everyone.  Let me just say at the top that besides being delighted to be joined by Secretary Mayorkas, I also want to take this opportunity to say how thrilled I am that we have Matt Miller joining us as our new spokesperson.  Probably have more to say on that in the days to come.  But I couldn’t be more pleased, not just for me but for the department and, indeed, for our country.  An extraordinary professional I’ve had the benefit of working with over many years.  And I’m equally grateful to Vedant Patel, who’s done an extraordinary job as our spokesperson these past weeks.

In two weeks’ time, the CDC’s temporary Title 42 public health order will expire, as required by court order.  President Biden and agencies across our government have been taking robust steps to prepare for the effect this will likely have on our immigration system, our partners in the region, and the movement of people across our hemisphere.

Secretary Mayorkas will speak about the immediate impact of Title 42’s expiration and our stepped-up enforcement efforts.  But first, I’d like to take this opportunity to put this in the context of our broader approach to migration in the region, which we’ll continue to build on in the coming weeks.  It’s an approach focused on making migration more safe, orderly, and humane, and on advancing the interests of the American people.

If you step back – and it’s really important to do that – globally there are more than 100 million people on the move today, compelled to leave their homes in search of security and better lives.  That is more people than at any time in recorded history.  And in our own hemisphere, we are facing an unprecedented migration challenge.  Long-term drivers like violence, corruption, lack of economic opportunity, continue to push people from their homes – problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, crises of governance, extreme weather events caused by the changing climate.  Twenty million people are displaced across this hemisphere, and the strain on transit and host countries is high.

Migration is the definition of a challenge that no country can solve alone.  The magnitude, the range of drivers, the push and pull factors – all demand that we work together.  That’s why last summer President Biden brought together leaders from nations across the Western Hemisphere to agree to the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection; 21 countries have joined that declaration.  The LA Declaration is an acknowledgment of our shared responsibility on migration, and our shared commitment to work together and leverage the strengths of partners across government, civil society, the private sector, humanitarian organizations, multilateral organizations, all coming together to address this challenge.

So let me highlight some of the ways the United States is working with our partners in the region on migration so as to take, among other things, pressure off our borders by giving people alternatives to making a hazardous journey to seek asylum in the United States.

Of course, fundamentally we’re working to tackle the root causes of migration so that people don’t have to leave their homes in the first place.  That includes investing and redirecting and mobilizing resources toward greater economic opportunities, as we’ve done through the more than $4.2 billion in private sector commitments that Vice President Harris has helped to secure for northern Central America.  These investments by businesses and social enterprises will sustain and create jobs, connect people to the digital economy, expand access to financing, provide training and education for young people and workers, and improve economic livelihoods across the region.

We’re also investing in economic opportunity through the nearly $1.2 billion that we provided in humanitarian assistance across the region last year, and through initiatives like our commitment to work with our partners to train and equip 500,000 local healthcare workers across the hemisphere over the next five years so that more people can get quality care in their own communities.  All of these investments will help people feel that they have a future in their own communities.

Now, of course many of these investments can take time to bear fruit.  So we’re working in parallel on critical collaborations and initiatives with partners in the hemisphere to have a more near-term impact.  First, we’re supporting host countries as they provide legal protections and assistance to refugees and migrants so that they can thrive in their new communities.  We’re doing that by delivering funding to schools, health facilities, and other providers of support to migrants, funding the staffing and capacity-building of local asylum centers and systems, and supporting registration and documentation efforts so that individuals can gain and demonstrate legal status, which is critical for access to work, to schools, to social services.

Our partners in turn are doing extraordinary work in this area.  Colombia, for example, has given 10-year temporary protected status to approximately 2.5 million Venezuelans, allowing them to work, to study, to access public services.  Ecuador, Costa Rica, Belize are also undertaking similar efforts to regularize migrants from Venezuela and Nicaragua, as well as Peru.  We see efforts as well to forgive existing migrant overstay fines, effectively removing one of the largest barriers to regularization.  Brazil’s “Operation Welcome” helped over 100,000 Venezuelans voluntarily resettle in places where they have greater economic opportunity.  Mexico and Canada are increasing the number of people that they welcome on a humanitarian basis.

We’re also working with partners in the hemisphere to accept repatriation flights, increase security forces along migration routes, provide more assistance to migrants and refugees.  We continue to surge assistance to host countries throughout the hemisphere to help integrate refugees and migrants, and increase humanitarian aid and protection for vulnerable populations.

Second, we’re announcing a 60-day surge of urgent assistance to regional partners to enhance security, to counter smuggling – an effort that Ali will share more about in a few moments.  We’re also working to counter disinformation being spread by traffickers and other bad actors, including by expanding our paid and earned media outreach to high out-migration communities and migrant routes through channels potentially reaching upward of 85 million people – so that people who want to migrate have accurate information about how to do so legally and safely, and know the dangers of putting themselves in the hands of traffickers.

Third, we’re significantly expanding access to lawful pathways for migration for those in need, including the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  For too many people in too many places, these pathways feel far from reach.  So we’re working to create more opportunities, and to make them more accessible.  The United States welcomed six times as many refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022 than during the previous year.  We’re on track to more than double those arrivals in 2023.

And in January, President Biden committed to welcoming 30,000 individuals every month from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, and Nicaragua through a parole program.  Irregular migration from those four countries fell by more than 97 percent within the first month – because people now have a legal and safe pathway.  That means tens of thousands of people are no longer making the perilous overland journey to our border, or putting themselves at the mercy of abusive smugglers.

We’re partnering with both national and international NGOs to connect the most vulnerable populations – including religious minorities, political dissidents, LGBTQI+ persons, and survivors of gender-based violence – to expedited resettlement processes.

We’re developing new ways to increase the scope and effectiveness of our migration system, like Welcome Corps, which – for the first time ever – allows American individuals to sponsor refugees.

And soon we will stand up Regional Processing Centers in select locations in the region.  I want to thank Colombia and Guatemala specifically for their role as excellent partners of the United States in these efforts.  These centers will be operated by international organization partners and improve qualified individuals’ access to accelerated refugee resettlement processing, family reunification, and labor pathways in the United States.  They will also be a referral point for lawful pathways as well, as well as humanitarian and refugee protections in other countries, like Canada and Spain.

These centers will take a hugely important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer legal option to migrate that they can pursue in and from their own countries.  It’s a new and innovative approach that does right by people who want to migrate, and that enhances security and stability in the region.

Later today, I’ll have a chance to travel to Denver for the Cities Summit of the Americas, where we’ve convened leaders to talk about how governments can better deliver for their people.  And that mission is at the heart of the migration challenge:  How can we all work together, as we are, to provide the foundation for better, more secure, and more hopeful futures for all our citizens?

With that, let me turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  Good morning.  Thank you, Secretary Blinken.  As the Secretary described, this is a hemispheric challenge that demands hemispheric solutions.   Working with our neighbors in the region, we can and will reduce the number of migrants who reach our southern border.  The Regional Processing Centers announced today will be a critical addition to the programs and processes DHS has in place for qualifying individuals to obtain authorization to enter the United States before arriving at our borders.

This is particularly important because we have a humanitarian obligation to cut the smugglers out.  We have seen a dramatic rise in the reach, sophistication, and cruelty of the smuggling organizations over the past ten years and the challenges that presents.

The comprehensive plan we have developed and are executing takes this reality into account.  We are building lawful pathways for people to come to the United States without resorting to the smugglers.  At the same time, we are imposing consequences on those who do not use those pathways and instead irregularly migrate to our southern border.

This plan has proven effective.  Building on the success of Uniting for Ukraine, we created parole processes for qualifying Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, and we expelled individuals from these countries who sought to enter at our southern border.  We have seen a high degree of interest in these parole processes and a dramatic drop in encounters from these nationalities.  Overall, the number of Border Patrol encounters in March 2023 was down 23 percent compared to March of last year.  When people have safe and orderly pathways to come to the United States and face consequences for failing to do so, they use those pathways.

After May 11th, our court-compelled use of Title 42 will end and we will once again process all migrants under Title 8 of the United States code.  This is a longstanding immigration enforcement authority that multiple administrations – Republican and Democratic alike – have used to process individuals.  It carries stiff consequences for irregular migration, including at least a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for repeated attempts to cross unlawfully.  The return to processing migrants under Title 8 authorities will be swift and immediate.

We have been preparing for this transition for more than a year and a half.  Notwithstanding those preparations, we do expect that encounters at our southern border will increasing, as smugglers are seeking to take advantage of this change and already are hard at work spreading disinformation that the border will be open after that.  High encounters will place a strain on our entire system, including our dedicated and heroic workforce and our communities.

The smuggler’s propaganda is false.  Let me be clear:  Our border is not open and will not be open after May 11th.

Today, we are announcing the expansion of our plan to build lawful pathways and to impose consequences for failure to use those pathways.

First, the Department of Homeland Security is proud to work with the State Department in establishing the Regional Processing Centers that Secretary Blinken described.  We are dedicating specially trained refugee officers to the centers.  They will interview applicants for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and provide for the swift processing of a greater number of individuals.  In addition to refugee processing, migrants may be screened at these centers and referred to pursue additional pathways to the United States or to other countries for which they may be eligible.

Second, we are streamlining the long-established family reunification parole processes for Cubans and Haitians so that individuals from these countries with approved family-based petitions can more quickly reunite with their families here in the United States.

Third, I have directed my team to develop family reunification processes that will extend this well-recognized model to certain individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia.  More information about these processes will be available by May 11th.

Fourth, we will continue the successful processes we announced in January.  Through our CPB One mobile app, we will enable individuals to schedule more appointments at ports of entry, consistent with Title 8 processing.  The Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela parole processes, as well as the corresponding returns to Mexico for those without a legal basis to remain will continue.

At the same time, we are imposing consequences for individuals who do not use our lawful pathways.

Beginning on May 12th, we will be – we will place eligible individuals who arrive at our southern border in expedited removal proceedings.  Those who arrive at our border and do not have a legal basis to stay will have made the journey, often having suffered horrific trauma and having paid their life savings to the smugglers, only to be quickly removed.  They will be removed most often in a matter of days in just a few weeks.

Unlike the Title 42 public health authority, the penalty for being removed from the United States under Title 8 through expedited removal and other immigration laws we will be enforcing is not just removal.  An individual who is removed is subject to at least a five-year ban on admission to the United States and can face criminal prosecution for any subsequent attempt to cross the border illegally.

We will process eligible single adults for expedited removal while they are in our Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be conducting any credible fear interviews.  We have expanded our holding capacity and set up equipment and procedures so that individuals have the ability to access counsel.  We have digitized processes, surged personnel, and with the cooperation of partner governments increased return flights.  We are ensuring that removals are accomplished fairly, efficiently, and quickly.

Families have always presented unique challenges within our immigration system, particularly for an administration like ours that priorities family unity and opposes family separation.  Like single adults, families will be placed in removal proceedings, including expedited removal.  We are currently focused on utilizing the full spectrum of our Alternatives to Detention Programs, including GPS monitoring and enhanced supervision, such as curfews and expanding case management services.  This will be coupled with more stringent measures for those who do not comply.

The same principle will apply to single adults and families.  They will have an opportunity to seek protection or other relief from removal.  If they receive a final order of removal, we will enforce the law, and they will be removed.

In addition to our land border, we will continue to confront the challenge of migration on our seas.

Since we announced our parole processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, we have made it clear that those who arrive at our southern border are not eligible for the parole processes.  We are announcing today that that ineligibility will now extend to individuals who take to the seas and are interdicted trying to arrive at our maritime borders.  We have seen too many people – families, women, children – perish in the rough seas.

We have increased the presence of our United States Coast Guard to interdict migrants trying to reach the United States by sea.  We have saved countless lives, and we have returned the migrants to their home countries.  That will continue.

In addition, we are finalizing the regulation that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security jointly proposed earlier this year.  That proposed regulation will incentivize individuals to avail themselves of lawful, safe, and orderly pathways, and disincentivize dangerous border crossings by placing a new condition on asylum eligibility for those who fail to use those pathways.  The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security aim to have the rule finalized by May 11 and will swiftly implement it.

The work we have been performing to prepare for post Title 42 continues, as I have previously outlined in our six-pillar plan.  We are surging resources to our border, modernizing processes, attacking the smuggling organizations with unprecedented law enforcement focus, strengthening our immigration enforcement tool of expedited removal, working to increase information sharing and resources – having distributed over $130 million this fiscal year with 290 more to be awarded in the coming weeks – for local communities and their non-profit organizations.  We are partnering with nations in the region to address the challenges of unprecedented migration throughout the hemisphere.

For example, two weeks ago we reached a trilateral agreement with Colombia and Panama to attack the smugglers who falsely coax people into the treacherous terrain of the Darien.  We initiated a 60-day coordinated campaign with Panama and Colombia to prevent the incredibly dangerous humanitarian situation of migrants traversing the Darien jungle.  We have made more than 10,000 smuggling arrests since April of last year and seized more than $47 million in smugglers’ illegal property and finances.  The Canadian commitment to accept an additional 15,000 migrants was part of a complementary effort to create lawful pathways.

Everyone agrees – everyone agrees – our immigration system is outdated and badly broken.  We must tackle the challenges before us together.  This includes the potential for increases in migration after May 11 and the strain it will place on our communities, our workforce, and our system.

That’s why today we notified Congress of our intent to reprogram funds within our budget to support other emerging requirements across DHS.  This reprograming of existing funds will not meet our longer term needs for securing our border and enforcing our laws.  The administration requested $4.9 billion for these requirements but received only $2.7 billion in the funding bill passed this December.  While the department is prudently utilizing the limited funding Congress has provided to prepare for the post-Title 42 environment, this notification of repurposing existing funds is only a fraction of what we will ultimately need.

We know smugglers will seek to take advantage of the end of Title 42 and that the first few weeks will be challenging, but I have full confidence in the dedicated men and women of DHS.  We will do all we can to manage our border and increased encounters in a safe, orderly, and humane way.  We are working with our regional partners.  We are going after the smugglers.  We are surging resources to the border.  But we cannot do everything that we need to do until Congress provides the needed resources and reforms.  We call on Congress to provide the resources we need to continue our work.  We stand ready to work with Congress to pass desperately needed reform to our immigration and asylum system.  In the meantime, we will continue to do our part, implementing the approach we have described here today.

Thank you.

MR PATEL:  We will take a couple questions.  I see we have a special guest today.  I don’t know if you want to ask the secretaries first.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.  It’s Take Your Children to Work Day, and we’d happy – happy to take a question from you, if you have one.  (Laughter.)  Or you can whisper to Matt.

QUESTION:  Well, I think she wanted to ask about the geopolitical and strategic implications of the U.S.-China-Russia rivalry, but that’s a little bit off topic.  Instead, she had a joke she wanted to tell, but I don’t – not sure if she’s got a little bit of stage fright.  So let me go ahead and start.

MR PATEL:  Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION:  One, for either of you, on the Regional Processing Centers, do you have a target, an estimate, of how many people will be able to – the capacity for these, like per week or per month?  And whether you do or not, if you think that they will be so successful and are truly new and innovative, why hasn’t this been done before?

And then secondly, for Secretary Blinken, I’m just wondering if there’s any updates on the Sudan evacuation or non-evacuation situation in terms of the State Department.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Do you want to start, Ali?

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  Happy to.  So this is a process that will scale up over time.  We are going to begin in collaboration, of course, with the State Department and our partner countries to begin several thousand each month, 5-6,000 plus each month individuals processed, a material impact on the decision-making of people who are seeking relief in a country.  The whole model is to reach the people where they are, to cut the smugglers out, and to have them avoid the perilous journey that too many do not make.  But we are beginning in Guatemala and Colombia.  We are beginning at the level that I described and we will scale up.  We are incredibly proud of the fact that we negotiated this agreement with those foreign countries and we hope to expand beyond there.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Ali.  And Matt, just to add one point on that, I think as this effort moves forward and we establish it, my expectation would be that even beyond the numbers of people who might be processed in a given month, other people, having – seeing that this is now a way to access legal pathways to the United States that doesn’t require them to, again, take the hazardous journey to our border and to put themselves in the hands of smugglers, and then to come only to be turned away in any event, my expectation would be that many other people beyond those who are actually being processed in a given month will stay put and wait to avail themselves of this additional way of accessing legal pathways.  So we’ll see.  We have to build it out and we’re very actively working on doing that.

As to why this hasn’t been done before, well, I mean, it’s like any good idea.  You can say, “Gee, why didn’t we think of this before?”  But the fact is we’re working on it now, and we’re working to make it real and effective.

On Sudan, just a few things.  First, we are very actively working to extend the ceasefire.  We’ve had a 72-hour ceasefire, which like most ceasefires is imperfect but nonetheless has reduced violence.  And that’s obviously created somewhat better conditions for people in Sudan.  It’s also enabled some humanitarian assistance to continue to move around.

But we want to make sure that, if possible, this is extended.  We’re very actively engaged on that.  I hope and expect to have more information on that in the coming hours.  And the focus, again, is on extending the ceasefire and making sure there is humanitarian access.

With regard to American citizens in Sudan, a few things to be said about that.  We are providing the best possible advice that we can to anyone asking for our assistance about conditions, about safety, about security, so that they can make decisions with the most information possible about what they want to do, whether they want to stay, whether they want to try to go.

As you know, the vast majority of American citizens who are in Sudan are dual nationals, most of whom have made their lives and livelihoods in Sudan for years, decades.  So these are very challenging decisions for people to make.  But we’re in contact with Americans who have registered with us in one way or another, and very active contact.

What’s happened over the last 72 or so hours is that the reduction in violence that we were able to achieve through the ceasefires that we helped produce has allowed partners and allies, in coordination with us, to conduct some aerial evacuations.  We’re providing important logistical support to these efforts.  This is a collaborative process and we have managed to direct many Americans who have – were seeking to leave to that evacuation process so that they could, along with other nationals, take advantage of it.  And that’s ongoing.

At the same time, what happens in these situations is you have people who are not all at once – everyone making a decision in a given moment, at a given time, about what they’re going to do or not do.  This changes over time.  So people who today think that they’re going to stay put may decide next week, next month, that they want to leave.

What we need to do and what we’re working to establish is a sustained process for enabling people to leave, assuming that the conditions that we see now are maintained, by which I mean on the one hand, yes, a ceasefire, however imperfect, but also ongoing violence, confrontation between the two rival military groups, et cetera.

As we’ve looked at this, we believe that the best way to have an enduring capability to help people leave Sudan, if that’s what they so choose, is overland.  And we are working to establish a process that would enable people to move overland to a place where they can more easily exit the country – in all likelihood, Port Sudan.  So that’s under very active development, and again, that will be the most effective way to have a sustained process, a sustained mechanism, an enduring capability to enable people to leave if that’s the choice they make.

MR PATEL:  Tracy.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  A couple of technical questions and then something broader for either of you.  Following up on the regional centers, how many more countries are you negotiating with to set up centers to add them down the line?  You have set a goal, I think you said, of doubling the number of refugees to be admitted.  Is that realistic given the huge backlog, the enormous demand, and how long it does take to scale up to the 6,000 a month or whatever it is?  So I’m wondering how many more people will really be helped in these new measures.

Secretary Mayorkas, you said something I didn’t quite get about family detention.  Will entire families now be detained?  Is that the idea?

And finally, for Secretary Blinken, you mentioned the global aspect of immigration, and so I wanted to ask about Russians who’ve been coming to the United States seeking asylum, saying they’re fleeing conscription.  Many of them are minorities, and it seems like their cases are being turned down.  Many have been detained by ICE and a few that we know of have been deported back to Russia.  So why is that not a – why do they not have a credible fear case?  Thank you.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  So let me – I can take the questions, if I may.  So the issue of credible fear, the determination of credible fear is a very case-specific, individualized determination.  Our very experienced asylum officers make those determinations based on the facts presented to them as well as their background information with respect to the country conditions.  And so they evaluate the claims based on the people before them and the case that those individuals present.

We are indeed in discussions with other countries to expand the Regional Processing Centers, and they will have a significant impact on the migratory decisions of individuals in the region, and our parole processes really communicate that fact quite powerfully.  People don’t want to place their lives and their life savings in the hands of ruthless smugglers.  If they have a lawful, safe, and orderly pathway to come to the United States or another destination country – like Canada or Spain, as Secretary Blinken mentioned – they will avail themselves of those lawful pathways.  That has proven true through our parole processes and other lawful pathways that we have implemented to date.

That is especially true when, if they do take that perilous journey and happen to survive, because all too many do not, they will find that the border is not open and they are subject to removal.  And removal will occur in the expedited removal context swiftly, in a matter of days or just a few weeks.

The Regional Processing Centers will indeed make a big difference because we are surging asylum officers to work with the international organizations – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration – to screen people very quickly.  We are going to be delivering efficiencies in the refugee screening process to move that process more rapidly than before.  This is going to have a material impact in a number of ways.  One, we will provide relief for a greater number of people; and two, an even greater number of people will wait to avail themselves of this pathway because of its magnitude and the consequence of not doing so.

We have no plan to detain families.  As I mentioned, we will be employing alternatives to detention, including some innovations in that regard, and we will on a case-by-case basis use enhanced alternatives to detention as warranted.

MR PATEL:  Camilla.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  The – my understanding is that the U.S. intends to continue deporting Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans to Mexico if they crossed the southern border unlawfully.  So do you know how many migrants or deportees Mexico has agreed to accept, if any?  I don’t think Mexico has spoken about it publicly.

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  To date – to date, Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 expulsions under Title 42 per month.  That is a decision that they have made.  We intend in a post-Title 42 environment, when we are using expedited removal – our Title 8 of the United States Code authorities – we intend to return individuals to Mexico from those nationalities.

MR PATEL:  Final question, Leon.

QUESTION:  Just a technical question on these regional centers, if I may.  If I understood you correctly, you said they were being – they would be operated by international partners.  Are you outsourcing the immigration process?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m happy to start with that.  No, the point here is to do the following:  It’s to take advantage of the fact that international partners have physical locations in a number of countries where they are doing very, very important work, and to be able to bring some of our own officers and experts into these centers so that people can come to them and explore whether they are eligible for one of the various legal pathways to come to this country, whether it’s as a refugee, whether it’s for family reunification, whether it’s for a labor pathway.  And that means that it’s a lot easier for people who are contemplating coming to determine from their own countries whether they have a legal pathway to do that, so it’s making legal pathways much more accessible.

And as Secretary Mayorkas was saying, as this gets up and running and as people see that there is now a more accessible way to determine whether they are eligible to come to the United States through a variety of pathways, we believe that that will take significant incentive away for people to instead make this incredibly hazardous journey to the United States, put themselves in the hands of smugglers, encounter all the terrible dangers that we know they encounter along the way in an effort to pursue asylum, and in any event not get in.

So that’s the idea.  But no, it is reliant on our own people to share the information and to do some prescreening of individuals who come to these centers.

Anything you want to —

QUESTION:  Have you discussed with Colombia about returning migrants?

MR PATEL:  Thanks, everybody.  Thanks, everybody.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-secretary-of-homeland-security-alejandro-mayorkas-at-a-joint-press-availability/

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