Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) convention. He sat down this month with the Amsterdam News to discuss the role homeland security plays in Black and Brown communities in New York City.
More widely known is DHS’ division that deals with citizenship, immigration services, border security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In his speech at the NAN convention on April 8, Mayorkas acknowledged some of the shortcomings of the federal agency’s emergency management that have adversely affected low-income, Black, and immigrant communities.
“I appreciate applause but we do not deserve applause for that which we must do and that which is long overdue,” said Mayorkas to the audience. Mayorkas is also the first immigrant to serve in the role of secretary of Homeland Security. His parents arrived with him and his sister to the U.S. as refugees after fleeing Cuba in 1960.
Mayorkas said that homeland security has strived for change through access to funding and is for the end of the controversial reign of Title 42, a “public health policy” holdover. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health order for Title 42 terminates on May 23 and DHS will then move to the standard Title 8 for seeking asylum on a legal basis.
Mayorkas said that Title 42 is not an immigration policy and is applied to people encountered at the border from many countries.
“I think what is underlying the concern with respect to the Haitian community is the situation in Haiti which has been a decades long challenge,” said Mayorkas. “But our policies are nondiscriminatory and Title 42 is unpopular in many communities—and we understand why.”
Mayorkas explained that the public health imperative in border patrol stations in a time of COVID was determined by the CDC when President Joe Biden took office. In the context of immigration it prevented people from seeking asylum, said Mayorkas. The CDC has reassessed Title 42 and determined that it’s no longer needed because the nation is at a different point in the pandemic than it was in 2020, said Mayorkas.
Regardless, New York City’s large Haitian and immigrant population have categorically condemned Title 42. Marc Francois of the Haitian American Caucus said that denying people credible fear hearings and access to the U.S. is an abandonment of basic responsibilities, which is only exacerbated by the stark difference in how Ukrainian refugees are being welcomed during the Russian invasion. Francois said that Syrians, Afghans, Haitians, and Central and South Americans get put in a “colorist” and “classist” box as refugees by the media regardless of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
“Ukrainians are receiving preferential treatment. They’re getting access to judges, getting credible fear hearings, and treated humanely as the refugees that they are,” said Francois, “whereas Black and Brown refugees are not.”
Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said that Haitian families in Brooklyn have been torn apart by “racist, anti-immigrant Title 42 policies” that coincided with a period of mass instability in Haiti, after its president’s assasination and an earthquake, when people needed asylum the most.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) called Title 42 a “Trump-era policy” that has “disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable migrants, often sending people back to persecution, torture, or worse.” MOIA said that asylum is a form of legal immigration and a right recognized by both U.S. and international law.
“Everyone has the right to seek asylum, no matter what country they come from. ALL asylum seekers deserve to be welcomed and treated with dignity,” said MOIA. “So we applaud President Biden for making the decision to restore our asylum system. As the city of immigrants, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs will continue to advocate for the humanity and dignity of all immigrants who call NYC home.”
Lesser known, the DHS lent a hand with vaccination efforts locally in New York City and provided grant funding to secure places of worship and community-based organizations, especially as there’s been a stark rise in hate crimes against Asian and Jewish communities in the city and a mass targeting of HBCUs and Black churches nationally.
In 2021, the DHS said they provided about $180 million in grants through the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to support physical security for churches and houses of worship to help protect themselves from hate crimes, a chunk of which went to New York City.
“And in that regard last year, we declared domestic violence extremism to be a national priority area,” said Mayorkas, “and so the threat of white supremacy, the threat of other ideologies of hate in terms of their connectivity to violence is something that we are equipping law enforcement in better addressing.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been a big supporter of increasing funding to the nonprofit security grant program. “Protecting our religious spaces, like our Black churches, as well as synagogues, mosques, and more demands help at the federal level,” said Schumer.
Schumer said he has worked to secure increases in funding for the program continuously, including doubling the national pot of funds in 2021 and $250 million for the program this year. He said he’s currently pushing for $360 million.
“With this funding, New York has fortified more and more places of worship and congregation, but the fact remains that there is unease across the city where we worship and pray,” said Schumer.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w