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Immigrant Rights Activist Discusses Migrant Treatment At Southern Border

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden calls it outrageous. He and Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas say that an investigation is underway. This is after photos and videos of mounted Border Patrol agents rushing Haitian migrants near Del Rio, Texas, and swinging straps.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To see people treated like they did, horses nearly running them over and people being strapped, it's outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay.

SIMON: Vicki Gaubeca directs the Southern Border Communities Coalition. That's an immigrant rights advocacy group. She joins us now from Tucson. Thank you so much for being with us.

VICKI GAUBECA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What is your reaction when you hear President Biden say that the agents pictured and videoed, quote, "will pay?"

GAUBECA: There's two parts. No. 1, we know that Border Patrol has a long history of not being held accountable. We've known that the problems with Border Patrol's use of force go far beyond this one specific incident. The other side is just what is the administration doing about changing the way we have been receiving people at our southern border in the last three decades?

SIMON: Well, let me ask, have you noticed a difference between the previous administration on this one?

GAUBECA: I think the rhetoric has changed, but what we're seeing are the actions on the ground are very similar.

SIMON: Well, Miss Gaubeca, let me ask you, there are, as we know, Afghan refugees who are now coming to the United States and the United States is trying to figure out what communities can receive them. There has been an increase of people trying to get across the border. That's a lot to handle at one time by anyone's definition, isn't it?

GAUBECA: I think that we have the resources and tools to instead of using a punitive, often lethal, law enforcement-only approach, we can instead adopt a humanitarian - with the same resources adopt a humanitarian, efficient and orderly process to welcome refugees at our border. And I'm glad you brought up the Afghan situation. The administration is rightfully welcoming and providing resettlement resources for - I think it's up to 95,000 Afghan refugees since we ended our war there. We are providing safety for people in need and sisters and brothers who we know are in jeopardy. There's no reason why we can't do the same in every other instance where we're receiving refugees.

SIMON: Haitian refugees in addition to that who - you're confident they're all fleeing political persecution.

GAUBECA: I think that there's been a little bit of a misunderstanding when it comes to our asylum laws. And there's a century of tools that the administration has that can provide humanitarian aid to people seeking that at our border. And so some people may not qualify for asylum, per se. They may qualify for other types of humanitarian assistance. For - and an easy example of that is temporary protected status, which was given in August, starting in August, to Haitians who currently live in the United States.

SIMON: Is there a reason why any migrant should not be allowed to enter the United States?

GAUBECA: I mean, I think there has to be an individual assessment. And, you know, the proper vetting that I think, you know, everybody wants without, you know, crossing the line of criminalizing someone. But, you know, I believe that immigration strengthens our country, and we should be stepping back and looking at the big picture as to why people are coming, whether there's anything we can do to address those root causes. I'm willing to bet that many of these individuals don't want to leave their homes, but they're forced to.

You know, I think that we need to look at the humanity of the situation, and we shouldn't be making these individuals suffer even more by putting them into detention or expelling them back to the violence that they were fleeing from. I mean, we're basically using violence upon violence against individuals who are only seeking a better life and who often contribute to the strength of our country if we were to allow them in.

SIMON: Vicki Gaubeca is director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Thank you so much for being with us.

GAUBECA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.