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Thousands Wait On Mexican Side Of U.S. Border To Make Case For Asylum

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is a confusing moment at the U.S.-Mexico border. President Biden is changing policy, but some old policies of the Trump administration remain. The border is formally closed, but some people are getting across. Let's try to make sense of this with Linda Rivas, executive director and managing attorney of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Welcome to the program.

LINDA RIVAS: Hi. Good morning. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: And I want people to know you're in El Paso, Texas. You've been crossing periodically over to Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande. Can you just define for us who is getting across the border now and who is not?

RIVAS: Yes. So after two years of waiting, people who were a part of the Remain in Mexico policy, which was a very dangerous policy that placed - returned people to Mexico with a court date. And these were many Central American, Cuban, Venezuelan people and families. They are now winding down MPP, and they're getting in on a daily basis in this very safe and orderly process with great help from U.N. agencies. And so we're seeing a lot of hope there as families are finally getting in after almost two years of waiting in some cases.

INSKEEP: OK. So we've reported on that group a little bit on the program, but then there are people who are not getting across. What's an example of that kind of person?

RIVAS: That's correct. So we still have Title 42 expulsions. We're still seeing Central Americans on a daily basis being returned to Mexico almost immediately, really at all hours of the day and night. We - again, Haitians are another group who are being flown directly to Haiti despite the turmoil in this country. So that's a good example of what Title 42 is doing to folks. And it's very hard.

INSKEEP: I guess we should define. Title 42 - is that the COVID restrictions, basically saying the border is functionally closed because of the pandemic?

RIVAS: That's correct. And it has been used essentially to close the borders to asylum-seekers and anyone seeking protection in this country.

INSKEEP: But you're an advocate for the people who would like to cross. Should they be let in despite the concerns about the pandemic?

RIVAS: Yes, absolutely.

INSKEEP: And why?

RIVAS: We need a process. We need a process for people to be able to come in and seek protection in this country. It's the right and moral thing to do. We hear a lot of the narrative right now - it's a crisis for us. The only crisis we see is a moral one. And we're hopeful that there will be a safe process for people to get in. We're seeing more injuries than ever before because the only way in is for people to try and come in in an irregular fashion that is very - a dangerous journey that they're taking. And we need to do better.

INSKEEP: Now, the Biden administration, since taking office, has been saying to potential migrants or refugees or asylum-seekers from Central America, stay where you are; we're not ready for you yet; we need to get a new policy in place - don't come. Nevertheless, you're representing people who have come. What did they make of that advice if they even heard it?

RIVAS: Well, we know that - this messaging is hard, and deterrence policies don't work because people need to migrate. There's suffering that's happening in other parts of the world, and they seek refuge in this country. We need - we really need a process focused on humanity. You know, just the other day, we encountered a Honduran mother who has a son, an adult son, with cerebral palsy - very, very ill. You know, they are trying to make it into the country after escaping violence in Honduras. What happens is they're encountered by Border Patrol almost immediately. And Border Patrol also immediately sends them back into Mexico, just very - just hopes completely crushed. And we really want to see us push away from the criminalization of asylum-seekers and this overt lens on security and focus on humanity. So a solution - a humane solution cannot come soon enough.

INSKEEP: If you are today an asylum-seeker and you go to a regular border crossing and say, I want to apply for asylum in the United States, do they let you in?

RIVAS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And we believe it's really essential that the port of entry, again, is restored as a place where a person can ask for asylum 'cause currently that - there is no other process.

INSKEEP: Ms. Rivas, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it.

RIVAS: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Linda Rivas is the executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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