White House says it is not sending Haiti migrants at border to Guantanamo

A Haitian mother holds her infant in a makeshift encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept 21, 2021.
A Haitian mother holds her infant in a makeshift encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept 21, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Biden administration has no plans to send any of the thousands of Haitian migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border to a special holding facility at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, US officials said on Thursday (Sept 23).

The officials threw cold water on the idea of using the longtime facility for some of the Haitians gathered at the Texas border. The statement is a response to media speculation stirred by a US government advertisement of a new contract to run the migrant centre.

US authorities, on and off for decades, have temporarily housed and processed migrants apprehended at sea trying to get to the United States at the Migrant Operations Centre at Guantanamo.

The facility is located on the same military base where the United States operates a prison for foreign terrorism suspects captured after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The Guantanamo jail came to symbolise the excesses of the US "war on terror" because of harsh interrogation methods in earlier years that critics say amounted to torture.

The lesser-known migrants centre once held thousands of Haitian "boat people" in the early 1990s but has been little used in recent years, though the US government has continued to maintain it.

Asked whether any Haitian migrants would be sent there from the US-Mexico border, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters: "There's never been a plan to do that."

"I think there was some confusion related to the Migrant Operations Centre, which has been used for decades to process migrants interdicted at sea for third-country resettlement."

A bid solicitation from the Department of Homeland Security last week that asked private companies to apply to operate the migrant facility was a "typical, routine first step in a contract renewal, and unrelated to the Southwest Border," tweeted Marsha Espinosa, DHS assistant secretary of public affairs.

The bid request caused "confusion because of the timing" Psaki said.

The Biden administration has been struggling with the influx of Haitians to a makeshift camp at the border, deporting some and taking others into custody.

The document said the Guantanamo facility would have "an estimated daily population of 20 people" but that the service provider should be prepared to "erect temporary housing facilities for populations that exceed 120 and up to 400 migrants in a surge event."

It also requires that "at least 10 per cent of the augmented personnel must be fluent in Spanish and Haitian Creole."