Washington Wednesday – Changes at the southern border


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 24th of February, 2021. Thanks so much for joining us for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, Washington Wednesday.

Former President Trump made border security and a tough stance on illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign and of his presidency. 

TRUMP: And we’re building a wall. We’re building a beautiful wall!

Now President Biden and Democratic lawmakers want to tear down that wall—at least metaphorically, along with the rest of Trump’s policies. 

The White House has been clear about its mission: Erase every trace of Trump’s stamp on immigration and the southern border. Press Secretary Jen Psaki put it this way… 

PSAKI: The president, our entire administration are committed to digging out of the immoral approach to immigration of the prior administration. 

REICHARD: And Biden has been able to reshape certain policies with the stroke of a pen. 

Upon taking office, he immediately stopped construction of the border wall. And earlier this month, he invited cameras into the Oval Office…

BIDEN: Today I’m going to sign a few executive orders to strengthen the immigration system building on the executive actions I took on day one to protect ‘dreamers.’

The first order formed a task force charged with figuring out how to reunite children still separated from their families at the southern border. 

The other two orders called for a top-to-bottom scouring of all Trump immigration policies and a study of the root problems causing people to flee countries in Central America. 

EICHER: Those actions were not controversial. But other moves have triggered strong reactions. 

Last month, President Biden ordered a 100-day freeze on all deportations. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly sued to stop the order. He told Fox News…

PAXTON: These were laws put in place by elected representatives basically requiring that if you come here illegally and you’re caught that you be deported. And he basically said no, we’re not going to do that anymore. The border is open, you can stay and we’re not going to deport you. 

REICHARD: A federal judge issued and later extended a restraining order halting that freeze. 

But last week, the Biden administration announced another move aimed at greatly curbing deportations and arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement—or ICE for short.

The guidance instructs ICE to focus on those who pose a clear threat to national security or public safety when deciding who to detain. 

Also this month, the White House announced that DHS will begin unwinding a signature Trump policy. 

PSAKI: The Dept. of Homeland Security will take steps to begin processing individuals, who under the previous administration had been forced to remain in Mexico under the migrant protection protocol. 

EICHER: That too stirred controversy. 

Victor Avila is a retired ICE agent. He argued that humane immigration policies are one thing, but he said the president isn’t just fixing what’s broken, he’s breaking what was fixed. 

AVILA: The migrant protection protocol, also known as the “remain in Mexico” policy, having people seek asylum from their home country or from Mexico has been working. 

In announcing that DHS would allow asylum seekers into the country, Jen Psaki added that “only eligible individuals will be allowed to enter.” 

PSAKI: I will note that this news should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate irregularly to the United States. 

But critics say migrants are absolutely interpreting this and other Biden policies as an opening. 

Border officials detained or arrested nearly 80,000 people along the southern border last month. That is the highest figure for the month of January in at least a decade. And it’s more than double the number from the same month last year.

REICHARD: And in a Feb. 9th interview, Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz told the W.I.N. podcast that the numbers are swelling. 

ORTIZ: Our agents over the last 10 days have apprehended over 3,000 aliens every day. Yesterday we had over a thousand “got-aways” along the Southwest border. So yeah, we’re getting to that point where we’re going to start to see an average 3,500, then 4,000 a day. 

Almost everyone in Washington agrees that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But what exactly needs to be fixed? And how to fix it?

On those questions, the parties remain deeply divided. 

Last week, Democrats on Capitol Hill presented their blueprint. The plan would create an eight-year path to citizenship for those living in the country unlawfully.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez told reporters…

MENENDEZ: They live under constant fear of deportation. It’s time to bring all 11 million undocumented out of the shadows, give them the opportunity to pass criminal background and national security checks, secure lawful, prospective immigrant status.

EICHER: Eventually, farm workers, immigrants with temporary protected status, and so-called “dreamers,” could apply for green cards.

Others living in the United States as of the beginning of this year could gain temporary legal status after five years and then pursue citizenship three years later.

Casey Higgins is senior analyst with the Akin Gump firm. She’s also a former congressional staffer who worked on past immigration reform efforts. She said this bill was really more of a statement than anything else. 

HIGGINS: Instead of giving everyone a reason to vote yes, it gives everyone a reason to vote no, and in the past we’ve seen it collapse under its own weight. So while I think this is a great marker for the left and may be indicative of—in an ideal world where the Biden-Harris administration would want to go, I think this is a political exercise to show exactly what their position is, but it’s not necessarily a lawmaking exercise. 

REICHARD: Unlike the ill fated bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill of 2013, this bill does not meaningfully address border security. That makes it a complete nonstarter with Republicans. 

Higgins said if Democrats are serious about making another real run at immigration reform, they should start with smaller piecemeal solutions that both sides can agree on. 

HIGGINS: That could break the dam and show that the world isn’t going to end politically because we passed an immigration bill. And I think it will give more confidence to be able to move forward on these issues in the future. 

EICHER: But for now it is more of the same in Washington and no sign of any real reform on the horizon. 

REICHARD: And that’s this week’s Washington Wednesday.


(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel,File) This March 2, 2019 photo shows a Customs and Border Control agent patrols on the US side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico east of Nogales, Ariz. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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