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With pandemic border restrictions ending, White House discourages illegal crossings

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

But let's talk now about a shift in U.S. immigration rules. The pandemic border restrictions are set to end in just two weeks. And today we learn more about how the Biden administration plans to discourage migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. The administration has announced a combination of expanded legal pathways for migrants, also tougher enforcement measures for those who cross the border illegally. Well, NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration for us. Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What stands out to you?

ROSE: Well, this combination is one we've been seeing a lot from the administration - new legal pathways on one hand and tougher enforcement on the other.

KELLY: Carrot and stick.

ROSE: Yeah. And I think what's - the new twist here is that the U.S. will stand up migrant processing centers in Latin America, starting in Guatemala and Colombia, where migrants can go to figure out if they qualify for legal pathways to the U.S., either as refugees or expanded legal pathways that the administration is still rolling out. It's all in an effort to cut smugglers out of the equation. Here's Secretary of State Antony Blinken today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: These centers will take a hugely important step to prevent people from making the dangerous journey to the border by providing a much safer legal option to migrate that they can pursue in and from their own countries.

KELLY: OK, so that's the legal pathway side of things. What about these tougher enforcement measures? What do they look like?

ROSE: Yeah, the stick. So the Biden administration says it's going to ramp up deportations for migrants who crossed the border illegally. For years, immigration authorities have used these pandemic restrictions, known as Title 42, to quickly expel migrants millions of times. That will no longer be an option next month, when the federal COVID-19 public health emergency is set to end. But the administration says it will then turn back to regular immigration laws using what's known as expedited removal to quickly deport migrants who don't have valid asylum claims. The administration says it's also pushing ahead with a controversial rule that would make it harder to get asylum if you've crossed the border illegally after passing through Mexico or another country on the way. In other words, they're trying hard to send a message that the border is not open and will not be open after Title 42 lifts, which is set for May 11.

KELLY: Yeah, so coming right up. I guess the big question is, is this going to work? Are we expecting that that message will get through?

ROSE: Well, the administration argues it can. They say this combination of legal pathways and consequences has led to a big drop in the number of migrants coming from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Still, immigration authorities are bracing for a jump in the number of migrants crossing the border. There are hundreds of thousands from across the hemisphere who have left their home countries, fleeing from violence and poverty and political destabilization. And many are now waiting in towns and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and growing, you know, increasingly desperate. The Homeland Security secretary acknowledged today it's going to be a challenging couple of weeks for his workforce and maybe for border communities as well.

KELLY: Yeah. What kind of reaction are you hearing so far to these two - to the carrot and the stick?

ROSE: Well, immigration hardliners and Republicans are not impressed. They already blame the administration for record numbers of migrants coming to the border. They're not happy about these expanded legal pathways. And it's possible we could see those challenged in court. The reaction from immigrant advocates was more mixed. They offered some praise for legal pathways while also saying they're disappointed that the administration is going forward with restrictions on asylum. One final note about family detention - the administration had ended that practice a few years ago over concerns about the harm that detention does to young children. There were talks about bringing that policy back in order to deter migrant families from crossing illegally. The administration said today it has no plans to detain families.

KELLY: Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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