The Biden administration has been struggling to accommodate thousands of Haitian migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border in recent weeks.
A report by NBC News revealed on Wednesday that Washington is advertising for a new contract to operate a migrant detention facility at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, with a requirement that some of the guards speak Spanish and Haitian.
“The service provider shall be responsible to maintain on site the necessary equipment to erect temporary housing facilities for populations that exceed 120 and up to 400 migrants in a surge event,” the contract solicitation told NBC.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted a contract solicitation last week for “at least 50” guards, a tenth of whom should be fluent in “Spanish and Haitian Creole” to be available on a 24-hour notice for work at a detention facility on the island, said the NBC report.
The report sparked outrage among lawmakers and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum. Lawmakers from both Republican and Democratic parties have already put pressure on Biden to end the deportations of Haitians to their impoverished homeland, under a policy from the administration of former president Donald Trump, known as Title 42.
Under pressure from lawmakers, DHS Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Marsha Espinosa said in a Twitter message on Wednesday that immigration authorities will not fly any of the thousands of Haitian migrants to Guantanamo Bay.
She said they use Guantanamo Bay to hold and process migrants apprehended at sea, and will not hold people caught at the southern border there.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, however, described the Guantanamo Bay bid as “shameful.”
Immigration activist Erika Andiola said, “This cannot [redacted] happen. I am so, so angry right now. Shame on you Joe Biden.”
“Democrats went from WE WILL CLOSE GITMO (2007) to LET’S USE GITMO FOR HAITIAN IMMIGRANTS (2021),” said journalist Glenn Greenwald in a Tweet.
Washington has temporarily sent migrants who tried to reach the country by boat to Guantanamo Bay on and off for years, in the early 1990s.
The authorities were holding tens of thousands of Haitians at the base, back in those years.
Guantánamo Bay is best known these days as the notorious site of a prison that used to hold terrorist suspects.
‘Biden following Trump policies’
In recent days, US authorities have removed at least 4,000 people from squalid camps under a bridge over the Rio Grande along the southern border with Mexico.
Biden has increasingly come under criticism after images spread on social media showing a border patrol agent on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, grabbed a Haitian migrant by the shirt, pushing him back toward the Rio Grande river.
“I’m unhappy with the administration,” said Democratic representative Maxine Waters. “We are following Trump politics.”
“What the hell are we doing here? What we witnessed takes us back hundreds of years,” she said, calling out Border Patrol agents who were seen chasing Haitian migrants on horseback.
“Here we are, we see a crisis at the border. But the black-skinned immigrants who are seeking asylum are herded like animals with horses,” said Brenda Lawrence, a member of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) leadership.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the Border Patrol officers involved in the incidents have been placed on administrative leave.
Psaki said Biden “remains committed to putting in place a humane and orderly immigration system.”
The inhumane conditions of deportations have even prompted condemnation from Vice President Kamala Haris, who said she was ‘deeply troubled about it.”
“What I saw depicted, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were was horrible,” Harris said on Tuesday.