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Roundtable: Biden puts focus on US-Mexico border

 January 6, 2023 at 11:43 AM PST

S1: President Biden is set to make his first trip to Mexico on Monday. What will it mean for immigration in San Diego and across the country ? I met Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. As Biden readies for his first presidential visit to the US-Mexico border , he's announcing a major shift to curb illegal crossings. It comes as the president is traveling south of San Diego to Mexico City next week. He's meeting with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. And immigration is set to be a top issue. The U.S. is seeing record numbers of illegal border crossings as another major change in policy is looming. Title 42 allows border officials to turn away migrants and asylum seekers on the grounds of stopping the spread of COVID 19. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch says the border crisis is not a COVID crisis , and the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next month about removing the policy. Joining us to discuss all of these developments and the looming impact on the San Diego border region are Elliot Baggott. He's the U.S. immigration team lead for the Associated Press. A new sources border and immigration reporter Sophia macias Pascoe is also here with us. And KPBS border reporter Gustavo , so Lisa's back. I want to welcome you all here to roundtable. In the run up to Biden's trip to Mexico , he gave a speech on Thursday about border security. Here's some of what he had to say about stiffening enforcement and expanding a program that was first used for Venezuelan migrants.

S2: My message is this If you're trying to leave Cuba , Nicaragua or Haiti , you have and we have agreed to begin a journey to America. Do not do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there. Starting today , if you don't apply to the legal process , you will not be eligible for this new parole program.

S1: This first questions for everyone. And Elliot , we're going to start with you.

S3: It has reduced the number of Venezuelans illegally entering the country. I mean , it's really a massive , huge announcement that got maybe a little bit lost in all the news about Kevin McCarthy and everything else going on also is bit complicated. But at bottom , he's , you know , ending asylum or maybe ending is a little bit too strong because there's going to be some exceptions , they say , but effectively ending asylum for anyone from these four countries. And at the same time extending a sort of olive branch , if you will , by saying you can apply for parole. But parole is very different than asylum. And the way it's set up now with with the Venezuelans and now with these new nationalities is you have to have a financial sponsor , someone who's going to sponsor you for two years. You have to pay for your airfare to come here. You have to apply online and go through a pretty rigorous application process. So you have to have access to the Internet and kind of be be savvy. So it's very different than then. Asylum. That's it. They will allow , you know , he said up to 30,000 people from these four countries on parole. But anyone who crosses illegally from these four countries is going to be turned back to Mexico.


S4: Right now. It's really , really difficult to get one under normal circumstances. I've talked to sources on the ground and the response is condemnation. For the most part , they kind of call it a carrot and stick approach , but the stick is outweighing the carrot at this point. So it seems like nobody's really happy about this. And then on the other side , you know , Stephen Miller is tweeting about amnesty to to illegals again. So it seems like everyone kind of border policy the last couple of years. Nobody's happy with with what's going on right now.

S1: And , Sofia , go ahead.

S5: I would say that we've seen this kind of messaging before from the Biden administration , this idea to stay where you are and don't come to the border. But we know that many folks are in circumstances where they have an urgent need to flee their home countries for a lot of reasons and for whom this messaging and this parole program just doesn't make sense or doesn't work for them.

S1: And we also heard from the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Here he is speaking earlier Thursday , titled 42.

S4: Or Not the Border.

S2: Is Not Open. We will continue to fully.

S4: Enforce our immigration laws in a safe , orderly and humane manner. Individuals without a legal basis to remain.

S2: In the United States.

S1: Will be subject to.

S4: Prompt expulsion under Title. 42.

S1: 42.

S4: Or removal under.

S2: Title eight.

S1: And Gustavo , we're going to start with you here on this question.

S4: I mean , like we've alluded to , I mean , Vice President Kamala Harris said , you know , don't come early on in the administration. DHS secretaries have been saying the same. Long since Biden took over. Right. The border is not open. We're going to enforce our laws to the full extent of the law. If you come here illegally , you will get in trouble. I think those are the same talking points that we've had since 2020. They may sound different because we associate anti immigration policies with the Trump administration , and the rhetoric back then was just a bit more blatant. But in terms of the substance , I mean , they've been saying the same thing for the last couple of years now.


S3: If you go to Joe Biden dot com slash immigration and it's all about , you know , criticizing Trump for inhumane border policies and how we need to be open to asylum seekers and be the Statue of Liberty beacon of hope that that rhetoric is is pretty much gone is gradually gone. On that website I noticed he took particular point of criticizing what's known as the transit ban , which is , you know , anyone this was one of Trump's policies where if you travel through Mexico , have to seek asylum there before seeking asylum in the United States. Well , now they're they're going to be coming out with a rule. This was kind of buried in the announcement today. But they're going to be coming out with a rule that does exactly what Biden criticized. Now , my office was asked about this today at the news conference , and it was obviously a sensitive subject. He brought it back up and said , no , we're we're having this online platform where you can make appointments at the border and and seek exemptions. But , you know , a lot of the criticism today from the advocates was that this is basically Trump 2.0.

S4: I think the criticism from the advocates , it just kind of shows how divorced the policymakers are from what's going on on the ground. Right. If you've gone to any migrant shelter in Tijuana or anywhere along the southern border and you expect people to get their smartphones and download an app and make an appointment , that's ludicrous. I mean , a lot of these people speak languages that just don't appear on the air , particularly indigenous folks. So like , how are they supposed to do that ? Like , it's like there's no understanding of the population that that we're dealing with at the border.

S1: And when we mention that app , we're referring to the government , CBP one app. The president talked about it on Thursday , and it's part of this new parole program.

S5: And we know that a lot of the reporting out there about what's happening on the border isn't necessarily true across all areas of the border , like here in San Diego. There's no one really rushing the border to get across. And so I think this messaging from the Biden administration is , again , just trying to tackle that that narrative going on.

S1: And we've been hearing a lot about Title 42 as all this is happening. And we know it can get a little bit confusing. And again , that's a policy that allows migrants to be quickly turned away on the grounds of stopping the pandemic. It applies not just to migrants , but also asylum seekers. And it seems that this has been sort of the de facto immigration policy over the last couple of years.

S5: And under Title eight , immigration officials placed migrants into removal proceedings during which they can make a claim to asylum , unlike with Title 42. But Title eight also allows for expedited removal , which is a way for immigration officials to sort of skip that hearing process. And it also comes with some penalties for migrants that didn't exist under Title 42.

S1: And Elliot , we know that some county supervisors here in San Diego and even the mayor of San Diego are saying that they just don't have the resources to help potentially , you know , more asylum seekers or even migrants who end up in our county. And Biden did say that more support for border communities is coming.

S3: I've given up trying to predict what is going to happen three months or six months or nine months from now. I mean , it is a serious problem , as we all know. And I mean , I'd maybe differ a little bit with Sophia on the it is a serious problem. The numbers were , what , 2.4 million crossings last year , up from 1.7 million the previous year , first time above 2 million. I mean , it is a serious issue. And the way people are crossing now is just I mean , no one's happy with it. People are crossing in very large numbers. I tonight hope to go to Yuma , Arizona , where at midnight hundreds of people start crossing and just turn themselves into the Border Patrol and get released because they're from countries that can't be sent home , you know , back home very easily under Title 42 Cubans and others. We'll see what happens there. But it's just not a system that makes any sense. I don't think this policy really addresses the issue of getting due process to seek asylum for those who most need it.

S1: And Elliot , staying with you here , you know , on the backdrop of this announcement , President Biden is going to be making his first trip to the border on Sunday. It's something that Republicans have criticized the Democratic president for not doing soon enough.

S3: But , you know , he is. And I think , you know , you mentioned going it's on his way to Mexico City to meet with the Canadian prime minister and the Mexican president. So it's on the way. I was kind of surprised it took him this long. I don't think although , you know , maybe you could correct me. I don't think Obama I don't know if he ever went to the border. You know , it's just indicative of , I think , what is it for both of them ? But Obama and Biden , extremely , extremely difficult issue. Trump , of course , embraced it was at the border , it seemed like every month or two.

S1: And as Elliot just alluded to , the president will also have a summit with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to , quote , continue coordinating a regional response to irregular migration in the region.

S4: I mean , it might be illegal immigration , a nice way to say illegal immigration or possibly recognizing the shift in the types of migrants coming into the country now , which went from , you know , the nineties , early 2000s than before. It was mostly single men , mostly from Mexico migrating for economic reasons. I mean , so much so that until a few years ago they may still have it. But the federal government , when you look at , you know , border apprehensions , statistics , they have two categories , Mexican and OTM , which stands for other than Mexican. So that kind of tells you a little bit about how the system was built. And I think that shift in the types of migrants is very significant right now because our entire border infrastructure was built around single men , mostly economic migrants. It wasn't built to handle a large influx of children , families and people seeking humanitarian assistance. And I think that fact is kind of small , a little bit nuanced , but super important that we have a system built , for one thing , and we're experiencing a type of migration that is totally different.

S1: And as was alluded to earlier , we saw a record number of southern border apprehensions last year. Elliot And anybody else , feel free to jump in here , Sophia. Do federal officials expect that record pace to continue into 2023 ? And I'm not sure if you know why or why not.

S3: I haven't heard. I don't know if Sophia Bishop , if you have I haven't heard any estimates. And I would just be very wary of them , especially after everything has happened. It's just it's just so difficult to predict what you know , how people are going to respond. But I do agree totally with , you know , Gustavo , that that the system that we have was built for , you know , whether you agree with it or not or think it was too harsh or too lenient , it was geared toward predominantly Mexican men who are we're going back and forth to work. And asylum just was sort of an afterthought , I think , or it just wasn't it wasn't a top policy concern. And the laws and the policies and the infrastructure are just just not at all set up to deal with that. And I don't think this announcement today changes that.

S1: You're listening to KPBS roundtable and we're talking about immigration. As President Biden prepares to make his first trip to the US-Mexico border. Our guests are AI News sources Sofia Maria's Pasco , KPBS , Gustavo Solis and Elliot Baggett from the Associated Press. All of these policies , they have an impact on San Diego. Over the last few years , federal immigration officials have been coordinating migrant drop offs with local shelters. But now we're hearing from operators of those shelters that they're stretched to capacity. That comes from the Union Tribune's Kate Morrissey's reporting. And Gustavo , it sounds like just before Christmas , some migrants actually started being dropped off at bus stations throughout the county with nowhere to go.

S4: That's actually why we have a migrant shelter system in San Diego that kind of prompted a group of nonprofits to create the rapid response network to respond rapidly to or CBP was doing. The fact that they're doing it now could be a sign of a couple of things. I mean , maybe it's a sign that CBP is processing more migrants than before. We know that roughly 200 people are being allowed now into the U.S. to San Diego through Title 42 exemptions. But it's also important to note that the people being dropped off are reportedly being dropped off here in San Diego. Didn't cross in San Diego. They were flown in from other parts of rural Arizona. I don't know if there's as far as Texas , but rural parts of the border that doesn't have as much infrastructure as San Diego does.


S3: But I think , you know , what I had read in the Union-Tribune was that the Southwest flight problems last week were causing problems , just getting flights out of San Diego and people were stuck and they didn't have a room for them at the at the shelters right now in San Diego. And I could be wrong , but I believe the issue is I haven't heard much about it in the last few days. As far as San Diego , I think we might be getting back to something more , more normal.

S4: I mean , it tracks with what the more common journey for migrants and asylum seekers here in San Diego. They don't. They ? San Diego is not a destination. It's a stopping point , right ? It's a place where you come here for a day or two to connect with family or relatives or communities in other parts of the country. And then you get on a bus or train or plane and get out of here. And the Southwest fiasco did kind of bring that to a halt. And if you think about that , you have a shelter system where people stay for a day or two and then they go. What happens when they have nowhere to go ? And more people keep coming in. It just fills up.

S5: Yeah , I'd say that this is a pretty fragile system. It works best when people are able to stay only a few days. But , you know , even a few months ago , we saw a situation where these shelters in San Diego were at capacity because of the number of Venezuelans that we were seeing coming into San Diego from other parts of the border who did not have sponsors and who ended up having to stay at the shelters longer. So there's a lot of different factors that can affect capacity at these shelters.

S1: And Sophia , you actually had a story earlier this week revealing that in Tijuana , migrant shelters there are also at capacity. What did you see and hear when you went and visited some of those ? Right.

S5: I mean , lots of these shelters have been , you know , at capacity for months now. We reported something similar in the summer. These are shelters working with often few resources and many families , individuals in need. But I'd say there's a bit of anxiety from shelter directors surrounding what's to come after Title 42. You know , we have this exemption program right now that lets very few migrants into the US , but I think some shelter directors are skeptical that real access to the asylum system in the US will be recovered in a meaningful way once Title 42 ends. We don't know exactly what that is going to look like. But even before Title 42 , we saw practices like metering or transfer Made in Mexico program that also significantly restricted asylum access at the border.

S1: And Gustavo , we know that you've also visited some of these shelters that are south of the border. And Elliott actually just reported that people are still camping outside of them.

S4: They're mostly asylum seekers. And Sophia said the system is overwhelmed right now. I've talked to people who have worked in migrants shelters in Tijuana for 20 years and saying this is the worst situation it's ever been. They're at capacity. They're under funded. A lot of these shelters got their funding or significant aid through donations from the U.S. Those haven't really recovered after the pandemic. It's gotten to a point where the capacity is being unmet and there's a lot of makeshift , unregulated shelters popping up. Some of them are good actors , but some of them are not. You hear stories about shelter directors taking donations , stealing. Money for migrants , things like that. And I think one of the the factors driving up this kind of stress around the shelter system in Tijuana is that they are linked to the Title 42 exemptions. CBP kind of created this program , and I think as we've said , right. Title 42 gives Border Patrol agents the discretion to grant exceptions on a case by case basis. But what the federal government has done is they've taken that decision making process and given it to local nonprofits to decide which migrants should or shouldn't get exemptions. They give a list to CBP , and that's how they get in. Now , since those nonprofits operate out of the shelters , mostly the shelters are kind of seen not only as a place to get shelter , but also as a place to get these title 42 exceptions. So you have a lot of demand for those spaces.

S3: You know , it's a it is a system that really makes no sense. And it's really just sort of this guessing game that the reporters and certainly migrants are engaged in of like which shelters are the best connected.

S4: And the nonprofits themselves hate the system , too. I mean , they're put in this difficult situation of having to choose who gets the exemptions and who doesn't , which also kind of puts them in the crosshairs of , you know , anyone kind of threatening or trying to exploit the situation over there. They have told me that this is just the federal government abdicating the responsibility and throwing it in their shoulders.

S1: You know , Gustavo , you recently spoke with some immigration advocates who are disappointed with promises from President Biden on immigration.

S4: At one point , ban immigration from Muslim majority countries , issue policies like Remain in Mexico , Title 42 that effectively shut down asylum. And you have to consider that the American or the modern asylum system here in the U.S. goes back to World War Two. There was this understanding that the U.S. had a responsibility to allow vulnerable people fleeing oppression to seek asylum here. And in just four years , the Trump administration kind of flipped that narrative. That responsibility is now seen as a burden that we need to kind of guard against. And Biden hasn't helped flip that narrative back. I mean , he's been reluctant to roll back Title 42. He's actually expanded it. As Eliot mentioned , his website is very clear about where he was as a campaign in terms of restoring and humane asylum system. But that hasn't happened. It's been two years of the Biden administration , two years where the Democrats had the White House and Congress and nothing's happened. So you can kind of tell where the frustration is coming from , from the advocate.

S1: And it's not just national policies. Some people are frustrated with local federal decisions like the closing of San Ysidro sped west border crossing that happened back in 2020. But we're hearing that it's actually finally set to reopen next week.

S3: I mean , I believe it's I want to say 13,000 pedestrians were crossing before COVID every day. And I believe that CBP thought it was , you know , about evenly split between the the PED West , which you mentioned , is a beautiful , you know , modern modern structure that it feeds into the United States at the Los America's outlet mall right near the , you know , these very upscale stores. And then on the other side , really a run down , you know , entry into the United States. And and even on the U.S. side , just older , older stores , it's not as is new. So it'll be definitely a plus for for pedestrians coming across. And yeah , that , of course , was a CBP decision. And I'm puzzled by it. It was supposed to remember it was supposed to to reopen on the 21st , which was the day that Title 42 was supposed to end. And then the Supreme Court intervened. So I guess when they made that announcement yesterday , we should have known that something was coming because they seemed to want to reopen Midwest at the same time that they're making these big changes on asylum. But yeah , that's reopening. I believe it's on Monday.

S1: Yeah , there was that initial false flag. And Elliot , we also know that there's new elected leaders in Washington. And can you first remind us , going back a little bit , there were talks of this last Congress addressing immigration or even a deal to allow those who came here illegally as kids to finally gain legal status. And we're talking about docket there. Did any of that happen ? No.

S3: There was some last gasp efforts , and I believe it farmworkers , if I'm not mistaken , and others could maybe correct me on it , but it doesn't matter because it didn't go anywhere. It was like dead on arrival. But , you know , I continue to think that if there's anything , any area of agreement , it would be on DOCA. If the time seems to be running out and DOCA in the courts. And if it comes down to having , you know , 600,000 people who are who have a lot of public support suddenly be without any any legal status. I think you might expect a backlash. So there could be some bipartisan agreement there , even though Republicans will be reluctant to at least say that publicly , even though they may so privately.

S1: And before we go here , I want to ask you all , is there anything else on your radar when it comes to immigration or our southern border ? And Sophia , we could start with you here.

S5: Yeah , I think I'll just be keeping an eye out for the Supreme Court to hear arguments next month. It will be interesting to see what those 19 mostly conservative led states will say in their arguments for keeping Title 42 in place.

S3: I might be looking a little bit more at what other countries do , particularly Mexico , Costa Rica , Colombia. The U.S. is leaning more on those countries to to do more , and Mexico did certainly in today's announcement. But yeah , I think just keeping all the stuff that we've been talking about today is just that it's really to take a while for me to digest it at least. And I think it's going to take a while to play out.

S1: And Gustavo.

S4: Yeah , I think maybe just shifting away from asylum , I think. I mean , immigration is so massive. I'm personally curious to see how or if there's any changes in legal employment based immigration. I know there's a story recently about a change in prices for some of those , and there's been complaints from businesses about employment visas being very hard to get. There's been other countries like Canada and Mexico making it easier , kind of trying to take some of that labor away from the U.S. and it might give the economy like a negative competitive. Why is it may not help to be so anti-immigration in the long term ? And I think maybe we'll see a little bit of that in the next couple of years , or at least I'll be on the lookout for it.

S1: And I know we always have these discussions , but at the end of the day , it's people that are impacted by these policies. And we're going to have to end the discussion there for this week's edition of KPBS roundtable. And I want to thank our guests , Gustavo Solis from KPBS News. I knew sources Sofia macias Pascoe and the Associated Press. Elliot Bagot. Be sure to stream our show any time as a podcast. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken , and Rebecca Ciccone is our technical director. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us and have a great weekend.

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An asylum seeker waits outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico. The Biden administration is bracing for a possible surge in migration if it lifts the pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42.
An asylum seeker waits outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico. The Biden administration is bracing for a possible surge in migration if it lifts the pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42.
 Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion about President Biden's new border and immigration strategy, as he prepares for his first presidential visit to Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. Guests include Associated Press immigration team lead Elliot Spagat; inewsource's border and immigration reporter, Sofía Mejías-Pascoe; and KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis.

Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion about President Biden's new border and immigration strategy, as he prepares for his first presidential visit to Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Guests include Associated Press immigration team lead Elliot Spagat; inewsource's border and immigration reporter, Sofía Mejías-Pascoe; and KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis.