MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: an update on the Southern Border.
The pandemic immigration rule Title 42 ended a week ago. Everyone from Capitol Hill to the banks of the Rio Grande expected an immediate surge of immigrants—beyond the massive numbers already crossing the border. But that didn’t happen, at least not yet.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: The number of border crossings have dropped by 50 percent since last week, but border communities remain on alert. Politicians disagree about how to return to pre-pandemic immigration policy. Advocates worry this disagreement will further complicate the immigration crisis going forward. WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett spoke with immigration advocates and policy analysts about what lies ahead.
ANTHONY BLINKEN: Globally, there are more than 100 million people on the move today compelled to leave their homes in search of security and better lives.
That’s Secretary of State Tony Blinken telling reporters why millions of people have migrated to the U.S. Southern border.
BLINKEN: That is more people than at any time in recorded history. And in our own hemisphere we are facing an unprecedented migration challenge…Twenty million people are displaced across this hemisphere.
Global migration notwithstanding, immigration advocates and policy analysts blame Washington—specifically Congress—for a decades-long failure to pass a substantive law about immigration and border security.
President Bill Clinton signed the most recent one in 1996. He introduced the measure in a State of the Union address.
BILL CLINTON: All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. That's why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more.
That speech earned him a standing ovation from both sides of the House chamber. The law he signed a year later had its critics and still does. But it passed in the House 333 to 87.
Last week, hours before Title 42 expired, the Republican-controlled U.S. House passed the Secure the Border Act of 2023 or H.R. 2. It passed 219 – 213 along party lines. Two Republicans voted no.
The bill focuses heavily on border security by resuming construction of a border wall and creating a nationwide employment verification system. It would also limit asylum claims and increase grants to law enforcement agencies for border security.
Like Clinton’s immigration law, H.R. 2 has its critics.
Like Rep. Greg Casar from Texas.
GREG CASAR: That’s why this Republican, anti-immigrant bill H.R. 2 is cruel, extreme, and not based on fact.
Isabel Soto is policy director with The LIBRE Initiative. She agrees the bill is shortsighted, but she doesn’t dismiss it.
ISABEL SOTO: It might be an unfair categorization to say, you can't create a bill if it's not gonna go anywhere. Because I mean, it has gone somewhere, it's passed the house, right? This is an effort to do something. And at this point, it's and it's we've gotten, unfortunately, to this point, that doing something is a lot. Just trying to get anything done is a lot.
Jennie Murray is the head of the National Immigration Forum and found little she could support in the bill. She noted a common concern with H.R. 2.
JENNIE MURRAY: It can't be deterrent and enforcement only. That's not a starting place. It has to be there. We have to have order. But there have to be solutions as well.
Without those legislative solutions, Democratic and Republican presidents rely on administrative policies. Since March 2020, the U.S. Border Patrol has processed migrants who crossed illegally into the country under Title 42. It permitted agents to return some migrants to Mexico or their home countries without hearing an asylum claim.
On May 12th, Border Patrol returned to its pre-COVID operational standards under Title 8. That policy requires agents to process all asylum claims with a few exceptions.
The Biden administration plans to release migrants with a Notice to Report to immigration officials at a later date. Politicians and advocates on the right and left disagree with that interpretation of Title 8.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody sued, arguing that immigration law requires Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain migrants while they await decisions on their asylum claims.
A federal judge agreed on May 11 - the day before Title 8 went into effect. U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell II issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits Border Patrol from releasing migrants on parole.
That same day, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration's interpretation of Title 8.
LEE GELERNT: We believe it's unlawful in the same way the Trump administration asylum bans were unlawful I argued those case in the Trump administration. We prevailed in those cases.
That’s ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt on NBC’s Meet the Press arguing that Biden’s executive decision violates immigration law by limiting who can claim asylum.
Immigration reform advocates argue the ever-shifting rules demonstrate the need for Congress to act.
MONICA WEISBERG-STEWART: It's total frustration.
Monica Weisberg-Stewart chairs the immigration and border security committee for the Texas Border Coalition. She lives in a Texas border town. So, this issue hits close to home. She worries the Republican-supported bill doesn’t offer a realistic solution.
WEISBERG-STEWART: What came out into that bill was enforcement only. We know straight out enforcement only is not the way to go. And at the same time, you have the Democrats on the other side saying, if you don't just deal with all the immigration without the enforcement, then we're not going to come to the table either, which to me is they need to do their job.
Weisberg-Stewart, Isabel Soto, and Jennie Murray agree immigration law must go beyond enforcement to create legal pathways into the U.S.
WEISBERG-STEWART: We need visas based on supply and demand, we need a guest worker program that actually works. We need farm workers, we need construction workers, we need individuals to be able to, to actually come in here legitimately, we need a process that works.
The National Immigration Forum partners with immigration advocates including faith-based organizations in promoting reform on Capitol Hill. Murray said their own polls indicate 79 percent of Evangelicals want immigration reform legislation. Their influence in the debate gives Murray hope Congress will address immigration reform this session.
MURRAY: So look, I think it's viable. And I think everybody's ready to lose a little and gain a little hopefully. We want to be a place of order, a place of safety, but we want to be a beacon of hope, as we have been for so many hundreds of years now. And we want to continue to be both of those things. Right? And we can be.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett.
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