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Confusion reigns at the border in Texas as Title 42 ends

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Migrants along the U.S. border are trying to seek asylum under new immigration rules in effect in the United States today. And in some areas, confusion reigns as applicants and advocates try to navigate this first full day of no pandemic-related restrictions. Texas Public Radio's Carolina Cuellar has been reporting on this from Brownsville, Texas, and joins us now. Hi, Carolina.

CAROLINA CUELLAR, BYLINE: Hi.

PFEIFFER: I understand you were in Matamoros, Mexico, today across the border from Brownsville. How are people feeling? What were they telling you?

CUELLAR: Well, right now there's a lot of confusion among asylum-seekers. They feel they're getting mixed signals from the Biden administration. And many are even aware of the new policy changes. Additionally, there's been some tension and fear among them due to current rhetoric around immigration. A big part of this is because of a recent accident where a man drove his car into a bus stop in Brownsville and actually killed eight migrants. And some migrants feel right now that this was an intentional act.

In addition to all of that, there's also been a lot of political tension. Brownsville is a major port of entry. And Governor Greg Abbott recently put barbed wire along the border. And this is part of his border program, Operation Lone Star, which has been doing these sorts of acts, and a lot of people think it's because he wants to send a message. And locally, the two biggest counties in the Rio Grande Valley, which are Hidalgo and Cameron, have declared states of emergency for the next seven days. And part of this is to get more resources. But, again, it also sends a message to people to not cross.

PFEIFFER: The government has promoted an app being used by Customs and Border Protection as the main way to apply for asylum. How has that app been working for the people you talked to?

CUELLAR: So the few people that I've spoken to - or many of the people that I've spoken to have had a lot of trouble with the app. They have trouble booking an asylum appointment. And they say that it's glitchy. The Biden administration announced that they were doing an update that was supposed to make it easier to request an appointment and make the app less glitchy. But I'm actually hearing that it is making it harder to use. Priscilla Orta is an immigration lawyer that I shadowed today. She frequently works in Matamoros. And she's actually concerned that those without phones or access to the app won't even be able to make an appointment to meet the requirement.

PFEIFFER: The ACLU and other groups filed a lawsuit last night challenging the constitutionality of the Biden administration's immigration policies. What can you tell us about that suit?

CUELLAR: So today I spoke to one of the co-litigants, the National Immigration Justice Center. And they told me a little bit more about the arguments being used in the lawsuit. So first, they say that the new restrictions violate the Refugee Act of 1980, which explicitly allows individuals to request asylum anywhere on U.S. soil. Unfortunately, Biden's new rules limit your ability to request asylum on U.S. soil to only ports of entry. They also said - another argument that they bring up is that a federal court has already ruled this type of policy unconstitutional under the Trump administration when he attempted to enact similar restrictions with a controversial immigration policy called the Remain in Mexico policy, which was ultimately thrown out because it violated constitutional law.

PFEIFFER: That is Texas Public Radio's Carolina Cuellar reporting from Brownsville, Texas. Thank you.

CUELLAR: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carolina Cuellar | Texas Public Radio