Many media outlets reported on Monday that people boarding cruise ships in the Bahamas bound for the United States as part of an ongoing response to the devastation on the islands from Hurricane Dorian were kicked off if they could not present a visa.
The reporting caused critics of President Donald Trump to slam the U.S. humanitarian efforts, including Democrat presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who said in a CNN report that the incident was “the height of cruelty.”
But at a press conference at the White House on Monday, Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mark Morgan said there was some “confusion” over the humanitarian mission and that people with or without travel documents, including visas and passports, would be allowed to come into the country.
“We are not … telling the cruise lines that you cannot allow anyone without documents — that’s just not being done,” Morgan said. “There’s just some confusion there.” He went on:
We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons who needs to come here,. Again, though, if they are deemed to be inadmissible, for example, if they have a long criminal history and they’ve been denied entry into the United States previously we’re not going to allow that person into the country to roam freely.
“We’re going to process them like we normally would,” Morgan said.
When pressed by a reporter on the stories about people having to have visas to gain entry into the United States, Morgan repeated that CBP will assist in the humanitarian mission but not at the expense of national security.
“If you’re in the Bahamas and you want to come to the United States you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not,” Morgan said. “We’ve already allowed U.S. citizens in and non-U.S. citizens in.”
“We’ve already processed people that have travel documents and don’t have travel documents,” Morgan said. “And we’re trying to do that in the most expeditious way we can to support the humanitarian mission.”
But, Morgan said, people will go through the usual process of being approved for Temporary Permanent Status, or TPS, in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
“We’re still going to do our job,” Morgan said, adding “to make sure that we’re not letting dangerous people in.”
For those deemed inadmissible because of a criminal background, they will not be deported back to the Bahamas but will be detained, Morgan said.
Morgan said in addition to people arriving by boat, they are also coming from the Bahamas in planes and that the federal government is working with the cruise and aviation industries to successfully relocate people in the United States.
“Over the weekend, nearly 1,500 evacuees arrived in Palm Beach, Florida, on board the Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship,” CNN reported in its piece that included the charge that people were asked to leave the boat if they didn’t have a visa. “All of them were properly documented to enter the country, and that process was coordinated with CBP ahead of time.”
Bahama officials have said that hundreds if not thousands of people are still not accounted for and CNN reported that as many as 70,000 people are homeless.
USAID had pledged a total of $3.8 million in aid to the Bahamas, according to CNN.
The official death toll in the Bahamas is 45 but it is expected to continue to grow.
“The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering,” Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands told a local radio station.
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