Homeland Security Secretary Message to Migrants: “Do Not Come to the United States”

On March 21, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urged migrants not to come to the United States, as the Biden administration grapples with a surge of incomers, especially unaccompanied minors, at the southern border.

By Emanuela Palmares

On March 21, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urged migrants not to come to the United States, as the Biden administration grapples with a surge of incomers, especially unaccompanied minors, at the southern border. 

“The message is quite clear; do not come. The border is closed; the border is secure,” Mayorkas told host Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week.” 

“We are encouraging children not to come. Now is not the time to come. Do not come; the journey is dangerous. We are building safe, orderly, and humane ways to address the needs of vulnerable children. Do not come,” Mayorkas added. 

Last month, it was reported by CBS News, that the U.S. government was housing approximately 15,500 unaccompanied migrant minors, including 5,000 teenagers and children in Border Patrol facilities not equipped to handle them. 

The Border Patrol facilities are also housing migrants for 136 hours on average, which exceeds the 72-hour limit, the network noted. 

Mayorkas said during the interview that the United States has seen large numbers of migrants in the past, adding that the administration knows how to address the situation. 

“We know how to address it. We have a plan, we are executing on our plan, and we will succeed. This is what we do,” Mayorkas said. 

He stressed that “it takes time,” and that controlling the situation at the border right now is particularly “challenging and difficult” because “the entire system under United States law that has been in place throughout administrations of both parties was dismantled in its entirety by the Trump administration.” 

So we are rebuilding the system as we address the needs of vulnerable children who arrive at our borders,” Mayorkas said. 

In an interview broadcast the following day, President Biden also urged migrants not to journey to the United States.  

"I can say quite clearly: don't come over," he told ABC News. "Don't leave your town or city or community." 

In an official statement released on March 16, addressing the situation at the southwest border, Mayorkas explained in detail the actions the agency is taking with regard to single adults, families and unaccompanied children arriving at the border and why the challenges the agency is facing are especially difficult now. 

Single Adults 

“The majority of those apprehended at the southwest border are single adults who are currently being expelled under the CDC’s authority to manage the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pursuant to that authority under Title 42 of the United States Code, single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are swiftly expelled to Mexico. Single adults from other countries are expelled by plane to their countries of origin if Mexico does not accept them. There are limited exceptions to our use of the CDC’s expulsion authority. For example, we do not expel individuals with certain acute vulnerabilities.  

The expulsion of single adults does not pose an operational challenge for the Border Patrol because of the speed and minimal processing burden of their expulsion.” 


Families apprehended at the southwest border are also currently being expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority. Families from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries are expelled to Mexico unless Mexico does not have the capacity to receive the families. Families from countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle are expelled by plane to their countries of origin. Exceptions can be made when a family member has an acute vulnerability. 

Mexico’s limited capacity has strained our resources, including in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas. When Mexico’s capacity is reached, we process the families and place them in immigration proceedings here in the United States. We have partnered with community-based organizations to test the family members and quarantine them as needed under COVID-19 protocols. In some locations, the processing of individuals who are part of a family unit has strained our border resources. I explain below additional challenges we have encountered and the steps we have taken to solve this problem.” 

Unaccompanied Children 

“We are encountering many unaccompanied children at our southwest border every day. A child who is under the age of 18 and not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian is considered under the law to be an unaccompanied child. We are encountering six- and seven-year-old children, for example, arriving at our border without an adult. They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them. 

An unaccompanied child is brought to a Border Patrol facility and processed for transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Customs and Border Protection is a pass-through and is required to transfer the child to HHS within 72 hours of apprehension. HHS holds the child for testing and quarantine and shelters the child until the child is placed with a sponsor here in the United States. In more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian. These are children being reunited with their families who will care for them. 

The children then go through immigration proceedings where they can present a claim for relief under the law. 

The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour timeframe for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met. HHS has not had the capacity to intake the number of unaccompanied children we have been encountering. I describe below the actions we have taken and the plans we are executing to handle this difficult situation successfully. 

Why the Challenge is Especially Difficult Now 

“Poverty, high levels of violence, and corruption in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries have propelled migration to our southwest border for years. The adverse conditions have continued to deteriorate. Two damaging hurricanes that hit Honduras and swept through the region made the living conditions there even worse, causing more children and families to flee.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation more complicated. There are restrictions and protocols that need to be followed. The physical distancing protocol, for example, imposes space and other limitations on our facilities and operations. 

The prior administration completely dismantled the asylum system. The system was gutted, facilities were closed, and they cruelly expelled young children into the hands of traffickers. We have had to rebuild the entire system, including the policies and procedures required to administer the asylum laws that Congress passed long ago.  

The prior administration tore down the lawful pathways that had been developed for children to come to the United States in a safe, efficient, and orderly way. It tore down, for example, the Central American Minors program that avoided the need for children to take the dangerous journey to our southwest border. 

And there were no plans to protect our front-line personnel against the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no appropriate planning for the pandemic at all. 

Mayorkas concluded the statement stressing that the situation we are currently facing at the southwest border is difficult.  

“We are tackling it. We are keeping our borders secure, enforcing our laws, and staying true to our values and principles. We can do so because of the incredible talent and unwavering dedication of our workforce. I came to this country as an infant, brought by parents who understood the hope and promise of America. Today, young children are arriving at our border with that same hope. We can do this,” said Secretary Mayorkas. 



Schnell, Mychael. 2021. DHS secretary says border is closed: 'The message is quite clear, do not come. MSN News, March 21. Accessed April 5, 2021 from https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/dhs-secretary-says-border-is-closed-the-message-is-quite-clear-do-not-come/ar-BB1eOfSQ 


Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas Regarding the Situation at the Southwest Border. 2021. Homeland Security, March 16. Accessed April 5, 2021 from https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/03/16/statement-homeland-security-secretary-alejandro-n-mayorkas-regarding-situation