'If You Take to the Sea, You Will Not Come to the United States,' Cuban Refugee DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Tells Other Cuban Refugees

Biden promised to be an immigration changemaker. Where is the change?


Department of Homeland (DHS) Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said yesterday that the agency is working to support Cuba and Haiti, with the former seeing widespread political protests amid the communist government's failure to provide basic supplies, and the latter in upheaval after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise.

That help will not include asylum—at least, if not sought in the "right" way. "Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States," Mayorkas said in a press conference. Those who do attempt to come to the U.S. by boat will be intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent back, while anyone lucky enough to finagle an asylum interview will be resettled elsewhere.

Mayorkas emphasized the deadly nature of that journey, perhaps hoping to deter a mass influx of people who would not survive it. But the message still strayed far from the spirit of President Joe Biden's campaign, which put immigration front and center as he repeatedly pledged to restore the sort of humanity he said was missing from former President Donald Trump's immigration program.

"If individuals…establish a well-founded fear of persecution or torture, they are referred to third countries for resettlement," said Mayorkas. "They will not enter the United States." As CBS News notes, that's not a change in U.S. policy, which has for decades sent migrants back when they are found at sea. Cuban migrants who attempt to cross at the U.S.-Mexico border have had better luck.

But Biden promised to be a changemaker, not only when it came to Trump's agenda, but also that of his former boss, President Barack Obama, who derisively became known as the "deporter-in-chief" for his mass expulsions. Having Mayorkas deliver the message is perhaps the most ironic aspect of all, as the DHS secretary came to the U.S. from Cuba as a refugee with his family in 1960.

The Biden administration's decision also comports with recent asylum protocol writ large. Migrants coming to the U.S. have a legal right to seek asylum, but those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are often forced to illegally cross and then find a government agent to file a claim, committing a crime in the process. The state can prosecute that crossing, as Trump did uniformly when he pursued a "zero tolerance" approach. Though Biden symbolically sunset that policy—it had already been put to rest by the Trump administration—it is still in many ways just as difficult to claim asylum.

"Except for a few months under Trump, this is one of the strictest border policies we've ever seen," David Bier told me in April.

Mayorkas's message is likely steeped in political optics, at least to some degree, as immigration continues to serve as a cudgel used by politicians and cable news hosts alike. In April, Biden announced he would keep Trump's low refugee cap in place after campaigning on doing the opposite. An administration official said that pivot came as an increase in unaccompanied migrant children overwhelmed the Office of Refugee Resettlement—which is not the agency that processes those minors. After a swell of pressure, Biden eventually reversed course.

But there are a number of other immigration promises that Biden has broken and not yet rectified. "There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration," he told NPR in August of last year. Of the lawsuits set in motion to seize private property for that wall, Biden promised, "End, end, end, stop, done, over. Not gonna do it. Withdraw the[m]. We're out." Eight months later, a federal judge approved the government's request to take land from the Cavazos family in Hildago County, Texas.

"We are utterly devastated," said Baudilia Cavazos. "We thought President Joe Biden would protect us."

The administration is also defending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the agency erected a fake university and deported immigrant students without refunds after they paid tuition. "They're being crushed by that student debt. A lot of them used their families' savings to pay the [University of] Farmington tuition," Anna Nathanson, an attorney representing some of the students, told me in March. "Everyone I've spoken to is unfortunately having really severe mental health consequences still. People are really depressed. People tell me this made them suicidal. It's really, really bad."

It appears Biden has not yet been moved by that plea. Nor has he been moved far enough to grant asylum to the people of Cuba and Haiti, who are respectively fleeing an oppressive regime and a failed state run by murderous gangs. If the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty—"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"—don't apply to people subject to communism and violent authoritarianism, then who do they apply to?