The Biden administration is gearing up for what could be a mass exodus of Haitians, weighing a plan to temporarily hold the migrants in a third country or use an existing center at Guantanamo Bay, according to a report on Sunday.
The National Security Council is in discussions with the Department of Homeland Security over how many migrants would require the US to designate a third country to process Haitians picked up at sea.
The talks also involve what number of migrants would likely overwhelm that country, known as a “lily pad,” and require they be taken to the US base in Cuba, NBC News reported, citing officials and a planning document it reviewed.
The Migrant Operations Center in Guantanamo, which has been housing migrants picked up by the US Coast Guard in the Caribbean for more than 30 years, would have its capacity doubled to 400 beds, the report said.
The center is separate from the facility that holds terrorists.
Gangs in Haiti attempting to overturn the government last month blocked the nation’s main fuel supply terminal, cutting off fuel deliveries and dashing the hopes of people thinking of leaving the island by boat.
The White House predicts that there could be a rush of people attempting to reach the US by boat once the blockade is over and Haitians can buy fuel, the report said.
The meetings hosted by the National Security Council have also included the Defense Department and the State Department.
The Biden administration came under withering criticism last September when thousands of Haitians fleeing Central and South America set up a squalid makeshift camp under the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, overwhelming border facilities and forcing American officials to fly many of the migrants back to Haiti or release them into the US.
A National Security Council spokesperson said the US is “committed to supporting the people of Haiti.”
“We recently delivered Haitian government-purchased security equipment, including tactical and armored vehicles and supplies, that will assist the Haitian National Police in their fight against criminal actors inciting violence,” the person told NBC.
The United States Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already have staff in Haiti to respond to a cholera outbreak, the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the DHS said the agency “continues to closely monitor the situation in Haiti and there are longstanding contingency plans ready in the event of a surge in maritime migration. As we have repeatedly said, irregular maritime voyages in the Caribbean are always dangerous and very often deadly, and we urge individuals not to put their lives at risk.”
NBC reported last September that the Biden administration was advertising for a new contract to operate a migrant detention center in Guantanamo, and would require that some of the guards speak Spanish and Haitian Creole.
“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 ad said.
The report said that while migrants picked up at sea have been temporarily held at the facility, records did not indicate that migrants arrested at the southern border would be transferred there.
Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there was no plan to send any Haitians amassed at the Texas border to the facility in Guantanamo.
She blamed any confusion on the timing of the ads and said it was just a step in the contract renewal process.