Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday that Customs and Border Protection will handle asylum claims by Ukrainian and Russian nationals at the U.S.-Mexico border on a case-by-case basis.
Advocates have criticized the Biden administration alleging it has been turning away both Ukrainian and Russian refugees from ports of entry along the southern border.
'We address an individual's claim for humanitarian relief as they are presented to us," Mayorkas told reporters on Thursday. "We have a number of efforts already underway ... to provide humanitarian relief for individuals fleeing a war-torn Ukraine. We are looking at other programs that we can implement to expand the avenues of humanitarian relief."
"For example, if someone makes a claim under the Convention Against Torture, or an individual presents to the Border Patrol agents, a case of acute of vulnerability such as a medical condition or otherwise," he said, adding the department has sent refugee affairs officers to Eastern Europe.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday President Joe Biden is "willing" to welcome refugees into the United States but the administration so far has been providing funding for humanitarian aid to neighboring countries in Europe.
DHS has been tasked with the federal domestic response to the Russia and Ukraine conflict.
Mayorkas believes most Ukrainian refugees ultimately will want to go back to Ukraine.
"The vast majority of Ukrainians are displaced in the countries in that region with the hope understandably of being able to return to their country," he said.
The secretary did not offer any details on what else DHS is looking to do concerning the refugee situation in Ukraine, but the department previously stood up Operation Allies Welcome when Afghanistan was under siege by al-Qaida.
He also did not give any estimates on how many Ukrainian refugees he expects to attempt to get into the U.S.
Mayorkas said DHS has issued guidance to all CBP officers on the border reminding them of the exceptions to the Title 42 authority and how it relates to Ukrainian nationals "and everyone else" attempting to make credible fear claims at the southern border.
DHS is using Title 42 authority at the border to send the majority of adults back to their country of origin under the guise of a public health emergency. The policy was enacted at the start of the pandemic by the Trump administration.
Mayorkas said he didn't have a timeframe for when Title 42 would be rolled back, and instead said it was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decision, but did say his department is prepared.
"We plan for the possibilities, whether or not they ultimately materialize or when they materialize it is our responsibility to plan and that is what we do," he said.