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Bordering on system failure


WORLD Radio - Bordering on system failure

A new surge of unauthorized migrant border crossings overwhelm efforts to fix asylum policies

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Associated Press/Photo by Eric Gay

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 26th of September, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Up first: Another surge of migrants at the southern border.

Back in May, the Biden Administration set policies it promised would stem the flow of migrants illegally crossing. And for several months, the numbers did drop, although extremely hot weather likely kept people away. Now, with cooler temperatures, the numbers of unauthorized migrants have surged yet again to near-record levels.

REICHARD: Last week, thousands of migrants crossed the Rio Grande and got through the razor wire near Eagle Pass, Texas. That prompted the mayor to declare a state of emergency as local resources maxed out.

RONALDO SALINAS: We’re here abandoned. We’re on the border. We’re asking for help. This is unacceptable. Please, just enforce the laws that are on the books.

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security released new data showing the number of illegal aliens encountered at our borders hit a record high in August. And September is on pace to register even higher numbers.

EICHER: What’s behind the surge, and how does American border policy or lack of it relate? 

Joining us now to talk about it is Theresa Cardinal Brown. She’s Senior Advisor on Immigration and Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. She previously served in the Department of Homeland Security under both the Bush and Obama administrations.

REICHARD: Theresa, good morning.


REICHARD: Well let’s start with the new ground rules. How is the Customs and Border Patrol responding to illegal entry into the U.S. differently now after Title 42?

BROWN: So they're basically reverting back to the authorities they have under immigration law, which is what happened before Title 42 was put in place. So what the Biden administration essentially tried to do was under its immigration authorities change the incentives and when or where people could apply for asylum after crossing the border. So they opened up appointments at ports of entry for people who applied using this app called CBP One. Currently, they have not quite 2,000 appointments a day at various ports of entry across the border that people can sign up for. They also match this with a regulation that said that if you come and arrive between ports of entry, there's a higher bar for you to be able to ask for asylum, you're presumed to be ineligible unless you can show some exceptions such as hardship or inability to use CBP One or other things.

REICHARD: So those are a lot of changes. How is border patrol managing now?

BROWN: Well, the challenge with any of these processes is they require time for the agents to actually process somebody through these new requirements. So they have to be entered into computer systems, there are forms that have to be filled out and signed and translated, and you have to explain to the migrants what's going on, that all takes time and you need a place to do it. And frankly, the challenge for border patrol for Customs and Border Protection writ large, even at ports of entry, is capacity. When more people arrive, particularly in a short period of time, and in one area, it means that their capacity to take people to a facility that won't be overcrowded. The time it takes to process everybody through these requirements, grows and becomes pressurized, essentially, is what they call it. Even though the rules say they're going to carry out these certain types of immigration processes, the reality is that when the numbers exceed their ability to do that, they are still releasing many people into the country to pursue their claims later at a later date.

REICHARD: How have immigration patterns changed since you were in the Department of Homeland Security? And specifically talk about family units and reasons claimed for asylum. 

BROWN: Yeah, so the two major major differences between what's happening at the border now and what happened, say in the early 2000s, even the 1990s one is where people are coming from so for most of the last century and a half 99% plus of everyone that was encountered at the US Mexico border was a Mexican citizen. That matters because they could be deported back to Mexico relatively quickly if they didn't have another reason to stay. And when I say relatively quickly, I mean within a day, less than a day, a few hours sometimes. And that meant that we, we basically put together short term holding facilities along the border for people, because the expectation is that people would be either sent back to Mexico or, you know, released in the country very, very quickly. The other difference is that most of them were single adults, mostly men who were caught trying to sneak in, and were looking for work, and were not asking for asylum. So again, they could be deported or sent back to Mexico very, very quickly. What's changed and this started changing in the mid 2010s, but really has accelerated since then, is more and more people not from Mexico. And that matters because we can't send people back to Mexico who aren't Mexican unless Mexico agrees. The second big difference is it's no longer single adults, no longer single adult men, it's a lot of families. And families are challenging because we don't have capacity to detain them. And lastly, most of these people are not trying to escape or evade Border Patrol. They're turning themselves in because they want to ask for asylum. So those things that were the exceptions are now the rule and our law, our processes, our logistics, our infrastructure and personnel have not changed to adapt to this.

REICHARD: Final question: Is there any aspect of the immigration crisis that you think needs more attention?

BROWN: You know, one of the things I think that is not really widely recognized, at least in terms of the public debate, and the way politicians talk about it is, this is not an easy situation, there's not a quick fix, there's not a single policy, like if we just did this, it would all go away. We didn't get where we are right now in a day. And we're not going to get out of the situation. Million and millions of Venezuelans have left their country. Haiti is a failed state, the Haitians are not going back there. I don't think we have recognized really that we're in a paradigm shift when it comes to migration, and we really do need to rethink a lot of things about what we presumed works at the border.

REICHARD: Theresa Cardinal Brown is Senior Advisor of Immigration and Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Theresa, thanks for joining us!

BROWN: Thank you for having me.

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