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Migrants crossing the border illegally has slowed, but there are still issues

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Border Patrol says the number of people intercepted while trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S. without authorization has dropped by as much as 70% since the end of the pandemic-era restrictions known as Title 42. That means the policy reverted back to earlier rules, Title 8, so migrants deported after crossing the border are banned for five years from entering the U.S. again. And the Biden administration imposed new rules denying asylum to people who don't apply for protection in another country first. Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar's district, which includes El Paso, Texas, is on the front lines of this. So we called her to get her perspective on how things are going now.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Good morning, Michel. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

MARTIN: So you and other officials have made it clear that it has been a struggle to accommodate all the people coming across the border. So I know you've just been back home. What's the situation like in El Paso right now? Are there enough shelters and other resources?

ESCOBAR: We do - we are doing well right now in El Paso. We are - the - as you mentioned, the numbers of migrants who are turning themselves into Border Patrol - those numbers are way down. But in a different part of the sector, which is in New Mexico, those folks - folks in that area are still seeing apprehensions. And in El Paso, we - what we do is we help facilitate movement to other communities. We find out where the migrants want to go, where their sponsors live, and we help them get to those final destinations. In the final destinations in communities like New York City, like Chicago, other areas, that is the landing spot. And so those communities really are shouldering that latter part of the burden, which is receiving them permanently.

MARTIN: So about that, I wanted to ask you about something. We keep learning about people being transported from southern border crossings and dropped other places. Like, for example, there are 16 people from Venezuela and Colombia who were flown to California by chartered plane, and they were dropped off on Friday outside a church in Sacramento. Like, what's your take on this? Is that part of that sort of planned process you're talking about, or is that something else?

ESCOBAR: No. That's not part of the community hospitality that communities like El Paso, Brownsville and other communities work on with receiving communities and receiving NGOs. This is something completely different. I suspect it's one of the red state mayors - whether it is Greg Abbott, whether it is Ron DeSantis or whether it is an unknown entity right now...

MARTIN: OK.

ESCOBAR: ...But these migrants - obviously, the 16 you're referencing - are victims of someone who is trying to use them as a...

MARTIN: OK.

ESCOBAR: ...Political tool.

MARTIN: OK. Those would be governors. So the Biden administration's new measures require non-Mexican asylum seekers to show proof that they were denied asylum in another country first. It's being challenged in court by the ACLU. Where do you stand on this so-called third-country asylum?

ESCOBAR: Well, I'm not a fan. But what I recognize as a member of Congress is that the administration is using very limited, very few tools at its disposal in order to try to manage a process that should be managed by Congress, by legislative action. So it really is on Congress to do something, especially those of us who are not happy with some of the proposals that we've seen recently or in the past.

MARTIN: We'll talk about that then for a minute. You led a bipartisan group in February to El Paso. What progress are you making toward developing a bipartisan approach to some kind of long-term solution, which is clearly what you're talking about here?

ESCOBAR: You're right. I have been leading members to Congress - from Congress to El Paso really since 2019, since I was first elected. But we recently had a wonderful breakthrough. We - my colleague, Maria Elvira Salazar from Florida - she and I introduced a bipartisan bill, the Dignity Act, for Republicans, for Democrats, and it is a real compromise. It is a solution to many of the challenges that we've been seeing not just on the border, but in communities like New York and in countries south of us. It offers regularized status and opens up legal pathways and just really reforms an outdated system. I'm very proud of the work. And what we're trying to do now is really get more co-sponsors.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, as briefly as you can, a judge in your state of Texas is challenging the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, DACA. You know, hundreds of thousands of people who were brought to this country as children are at risk of having their deferred status revoked. Does your plan include protections for them?

ESCOBAR: It does.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of Texas. She's a Democrat.

Thank you so much for talking to us.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "ORBIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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