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A California city seeing an influx of migrants reacts to Biden's border control plan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden announced new border control measures yesterday and urged migrants not to show up at the southern U.S. border. Those who do cross without documentation, he said, will be quickly expelled to Mexico. The new restrictions come as the number of people seeking asylum in recent months has grown and as a number of U.S. cities have declared states of emergency, cities including the border city of Calexico in California. That is where NPR's Jasmine Garsd was recently. She has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF TURNSTILES CLANKING)

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: That's the sound of turnstiles that folks use to cross between Calexico and Mexicali, the city on the other side of the border. Thousands of people line up to come through this gate every day - a small opening in the steel border wall - to go to work, to visit family and to shop. And many line up to ask for asylum in the United States.

Jacqueline Arellano is with the nonprofit Border Kindness. Based in Calexico, they offer an array of services to migrants and asylum seekers.

JACQUELINE ARELLANO: In the last two or three years, we have noticed a big shift not just in numbers but also country of origin. And also, there is an increased level of desperation and misinformation.

GARSD: Arellano says it's hard to come by official numbers, but she estimates that currently, at least 60 migrants a day are arriving in Calexico. That's over twice as many as a year ago. Calexico Vice Mayor Raul Urena says his small city, with its population of around 38,000, is simply not prepared.

RAUL URENA: Ninety percent of the migrants - 90% - are able to just get on their way with some kind of transportation service. But the other 10%, there has been instances where these people have had to sleep on the street.

GARSD: Calexico declared a state of emergency in late December over the influx. Most folks in this city I spoke to yesterday say they've noticed it, but it hasn't affected their everyday life. Melisa Martinez was out doing some shopping. She hadn't heard of Biden's new border policy.

MELISA MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "Most people who live here are Latinos, and I don't think we care that more Latinos come here," she says.

But not all in Calexico agree. Alexandra Ibarra, a Mexican-born American citizen, was out for a stroll with her kids. She says she's noticed more migrants arriving in the city and that it's at times felt disruptive.

ALEXANDRA IBARRA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Ibarra says she and her son were at a mall near the border fence recently and that a migrant ran through the store they were in, chased by border patrol. Her son was terrified. She thinks Biden's plan to limit the number of people crossing the border is a good idea.

Anthony Pantoja, on the other side, doesn't understand the hand-wringing. He's a cook at a restaurant here, and he says lots of places in Calexico are incredibly shorthanded.

ANTHONY PANTOJA: Never have enough workers - we were always understaffed. That's everywhere, pretty much. So wherever they can get people, they'll take them.

GARSD: Like so many in the city, he lives in Mexicali and commutes every day. A few years ago, he started noticing the line of asylum seekers growing - folks from Cuba, Haiti, even Ukraine. Community leaders are concerned about how President Biden's new border policy will impact these people. Raul Urena, the Calexico vice mayor, says it pushes the responsibility for migrants and their safety on Mexico.

URENA: Where people there are going to then again be in danger, ripe for human trafficking, all those things that we want to avoid.

GARSD: He acknowledges that his city isn't capable of helping all the people who want asylum. But he worries about what will happen to them if they get turned away.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Calexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.