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With Title 42 in flux, migrants take over Mexican cities across the border


A Trump-era public health order known as Title 42 that's been used to keep migrants out of the U.S. was supposed to end on May 23, but a federal judge has now temporarily halted those plans. And advocates are worried about what this will mean for the thousands of migrants waiting at the border. Pedro Rios is the program director for the U.S./Mexico Border Program at the American Friends Services Committee. He joins us now from San Diego. Welcome.

PEDRO RIOS: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be on the show.

RASCOE: So you cross the border often into Tijuana, Mexico, which has always been a busy region for migration and especially since President Biden got elected. What do you see when you visit?

RIOS: You know, what I see are many migrants who are confused about what the policies have meant for them. There is a lot of desperation, especially more recently with what appears to be disparate treatment with Ukrainian migrants that have arrived and have been exempted from some of the policies, especially Title 42. Many people from different parts of the world have yet to have had the opportunity to present their cases and present an asylum case.

RASCOE: So what are those conditions like? Is there enough basic necessities like food and water?

RIOS: There aren't basic necessities. In fact, most of the migrant shelters are already saturated with people that have been waiting. And in some circumstances, the pandemic made it much worse because it closed off a lot of the shelters where people would want to wait. And then there are some migrants who can't go to the shelters because there are people affiliated with cartels that are watching out to see who arrives at the shelters. So some of the conditions include kidnappings. They have included extortion by state and nonstate actors. There has been anti-Black violence for migrants that are coming from Haiti or from many of the African countries. There are some migrants that have attempted to cross into the U.S. already and have been expelled because of Title 42, and so those migrants are also much more vulnerable because the authorities might just say that they are criminals, so that might subject them to even harsher penalties by local authorities.

RASCOE: We should be clear that many people are coming to the U.S. to apply for asylum, which is legal to do outside of, you know, Title 42. It is legal to do that.

RIOS: That's correct. So it's legal under U.S. law. It's legal under obligations that the U.S. has signed with other countries that everyone has the right to apply for asylum. Now, the door for doing that has been shut closed by the U.S. government. And that forces migrants to have to cross through much more perilous journeys like the deserts or the mountains or the oceans.

RASCOE: So the Biden administration has put out a plan that they say would deal with, you know, an increase in migrants once they lift Title 42. What do you think about that plan that they have released?

RIOS: I think it's an attempt to try to allay some of the concerns that the Biden administration has not been tough on border enforcement. And I think just by - the mere application of Title 42 suggests that he is continuing some of these harsh policies. But the six-point plan does have some concerns for me, particularly the idea of expeditiously removing migrants. And I don't think that that will provide them with an opportunity to present a full case to necessitate asylum in their particular cases.

RASCOE: Everything's in limbo, but what - how would you like to see this resolved?

RIOS: There are enough cases to suggest that Title 42 was a failed policy, that President Biden should have rescinded it on his first day of the administration and that more resources should be placed to take in migrants in a humanitarian way that uplifts their dignity and that ensures that they're - they are not placed in further harm.

RASCOE: Pedro Rios is the program director for the U.S./Mexico Border Program at the American Friends Services Committee. Thank you for being with us.

RIOS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.