As Haiti and Cuba reel from political unrest over the last couple of weeks, some of their people are fleeing to the United States by boat. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas gave refugees on boats a warning Tuesday (July 13): they will not be allowed into the country, according to CBS News.
"Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States," Mayorkas said, noting that traversing the Caribbean Sea and the Florida Straits by boat is dangerous.
Cubans have taken to the streets in mass protest over the last few days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening socioeconomic conditions, lack of supplies, and other grievances with the government. Meanwhile, Haiti is facing political upheaval following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise at his home.
Even if Cubans and Haitians fear persecution in their home countries, they will not be given refuge. Instead, the Coast Guard will intercept them and return them to their respective countries. Asylum-seekers who get interviews with U.S. officials won't be allowed on U.S. soil -- even if they plead their case well, Mayorkas added.
"If individuals make, establish a well-founded fear of persecution or torture, they are referred to third countries for resettlement," the DHS secretary said. "They will not enter the United States." Mayorkas did not specify which third countries refugees would be relocated to, and the State Department, which is responsible for handling those referrals, has not responded back to CBC News' request for comment.
These measures have been part of U.S. policy for decades, but Mayorkas' remarks have received backlash from refugee advocates.
"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 reporters. "They should allow people to land in the United States and go through their full asylum proceedings."