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Texas congressman on the end of Title 42 and the need for better border policies

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Just before midnight Eastern tonight, the nation's public health emergency for COVID-19 will officially end, and with it, the border policy known as Title 42. The Trump administration put that policy in place at the start of the pandemic. Title 42 has enabled border officials to swiftly expel migrants crossing into the U.S. without letting them apply for asylum. Letting it expire is a bad idea according to Texas Representative Vicente Gonzales, a Democrat. He has been urging President Biden to extend Title 42 and cites concern that, quote, "our precarious immigration system is already stretched beyond its capacity." Congressman Gonzalez, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

VICENTE GONZALEZ: Thank you.

KELLY: Unless something unexpected happens at the stroke of midnight, Title 42 is no more. What is lost in your view?

GONZALEZ: Well, our concern is that small communities along the border do not have the resources they require in the event of an overwhelming surge on our border. As of right now, things are generally under control. Our Border Patrol sector chief there, Chief Chavez, has done a phenomenal job in having an orderly process on the border. A staging center that she created on the border on a golf course called Camp Monument - that's been pretty orderly, moving around a thousand - an average - hovering about a thousand people a day. Now, when you - if you turn up that volume to, say, 10,000 people in a day, we don't know - or 5,000 - that we will have the personnel and the transportation and every other resource that we need to properly and efficiently and humanely move people along.

KELLY: To follow up on a couple things you said - one, the situation as we actually understand it now - our reporter Joel Rose, who's in El Paso, is saying something that scores with what you just told me, that he is seeing migrants on the streets there downtown in El Paso but not as many as you would have seen a few weeks ago. He interviewed Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who said the number in border holding facilities is actually down by a few thousand from yesterday morning. Is it possible the predictions of crisis, the fears of crisis will not come to pass?

GONZALEZ: It is possible, and I'm hopeful that that is the case. I'm just being cautiously optimistic. But, yeah, I mean, we have been - the administration has been planning this transition for over a year now and...

KELLY: And has been messaging saying, you know, the border...

GONZALEZ: Absolutely.

KELLY: ...Is not open. Don't come.

GONZALEZ: That's right. And after Title 42, you're going to probably see CBP and Border Patrol transition into enforcing Title 8, which will be a continuation of enforcing the laws on our southern border, which include immediate removal. And I think that should be a concern for migrants who are trying to make their way up.

KELLY: You've cited that what is needed is infrastructure - good infrastructure.

GONZALEZ: That's right.

KELLY: And I'll note the Biden administration has already built facilities to house thousands more migrants. They have hired more staff. They're trying to cut processing times. What more do you want to see?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Well, for the last four or five years, I've been pushing the idea of safe zones which the administration calls you know, third country asylum processing centers. And we should be creating places in Guatemala and in Costa Rica, places like Panama and Colombia, where migrants can show up and process their asylum claim at that juncture and not have to make that trek all the way to our southern border and, if we're ultimately going to allow them in, allow them to fly into their final destination from there.

KELLY: And your argument is that these centers should be farther along. We should have more set up before Title 42...

GONZALEZ: That's right.

KELLY: ...Is rolled back.

GONZALEZ: It takes the pressure off our southern border which allows the Border Patrol and law enforcement to do what they've been trained to do on our southern border. And it also removes the cartels out of the equation. Cartels, you got to remember, are making billions of dollars bringing migrants to our southern border.

KELLY: Big picture, the U.S. can have whatever infrastructure it wants in place. If violence and political and economic stability in parts of Latin America continues to drive people to the southern border, we still have a problem. What would you like to see the administration do? What can any administration do to address root causes here?

GONZALEZ: That's right. And that's something that we continue to ignore on Capitol Hill, that the people are migrating mostly because of economic reasons. And we should go into those countries that have the most migration coming, which is the three Central American countries, and invest in their economies and agriculture and manufacturing and tourism to improve lives and create conditions that make people not want to migrate.

KELLY: Congressman, thank you.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

KELLY: That is Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez representing Brownsville and other parts of southern Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.