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A Look At How Biden Could Rebuild The Asylum System

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After the Trump administration brought the asylum system to a near standstill, President Biden's opening the door once again. In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, the new secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said thousands of migrants who are waiting in Mexico will be allowed into the U.S. to seek protection.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: We are focused on relieving that desperation and bringing humanity back to our processes and restoring our nation's proudest traditions.

SHAPIRO: There are still big questions about how the Biden administration can rebuild the asylum system without triggering a new crisis at the border. And NPR's Joel Rose is here to talk about it. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, lay out the details of what the Biden administration actually announced today.

ROSE: So this is the first step to unwind the Trump administration policy known as Remain in Mexico. And under this policy, migrants arriving at the southern border were forced to wait in Mexico for their day in U.S. immigration courts. Tens of thousands are still waiting in border towns, often in dangerous or squalid conditions. And today, the Biden administration announced it will allow roughly 25,000 of those migrants into the U.S. while their asylum cases play out, starting one week from today, next Friday, with about 300 asylum-seekers per day initially.

SHAPIRO: We've been hearing this week about more migrants trying to cross the southern border. What does this mean for them?

ROSE: Well, to be clear, this announcement only applies to people in the Remain in Mexico program who have active cases. And the administration has repeatedly warned would-be migrants in Central America or elsewhere not to come north to the U.S. border because they'll be turned away. In essence, Biden administration officials are trying to rebut the marketing ploy from smugglers who are trying to exploit this situation. They've been falsely telling migrants that the border is open now that the Biden administration is in office. As you said, immigration authorities reported a jump in the number of migrants trying to cross in January. NPR asked Secretary Mayorkas about all this, and he acknowledged it is a challenge. Mayorkas urge potential migrants to wait and give this administration a chance to rebuild the asylum system that has been essentially gutted over the last four years.

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MAYORKAS: If, in fact, they don't wait, we will see the detriments of that failure to wait. And that, regrettably, will be an important lesson with respect to what we have cautioned.

SHAPIRO: Explain why this is going to be so difficult to rebuild the asylum system.

ROSE: Well, this new system for processing migrants came together really fast. And this is complicated stuff. It involves multiple non-governmental organizations, the Mexican government and a new online platform for helping migrants to register. Also, keep in mind, the Biden administration has been in office for less than 30 days. And we're in the middle of a pandemic. The plan for that is to have the NGOs test migrants for COVID in Mexico before they're allowed to enter the U.S. at designated ports of entry. The bottom line is that there is still a lot of questions about how well this will all work in practice - and a lot of pressure from immigrant advocates, you know, to fix this fast, to get these migrants out of vulnerable positions in Mexico that U.S. policy has put them in.

SHAPIRO: And Secretary Mayorkas is also in charge of a Biden task force that's working to reunite migrant families that were separated during the Trump administration. What's the status of that?

ROSE: Well, it's just getting started. This task force is charged with locating and reuniting families that were separated, that are still separated years after the Trump administration's family separation policy officially ended, including hundreds of parents who were deported without their children. Here's what Secretary Mayorkas said about that.

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MAYORKAS: We are certainly considering reuniting those families here in the United States or in the countries of origin, whatever their needs and humanitarian rights require.

ROSE: A big turnaround there from the Trump administration, which fought not to let these parents back into the U.S.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks a lot.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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