Title 42 will end this week and that could lead to an influx of migrants
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In Brownsville, Texas, a driver crashed into a group of people at a bus stop - the vehicle killed at least eight people - which was near a migrant shelter.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The driver's motive is uncertain, but it is a tense moment. The pandemic restrictions known as Title 42 are set to end this week. The regulations have made it easier for the United States to deport people who crossed the border seeking asylum. Now people will have a better chance. And video from the border shows many migrants near that border waiting for the opportunity.
MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose is with us now with more. Good morning, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: So first of all, what has law enforcement said about the driver and about what happened in Brownsville?
ROSE: Surveillance video shows an SUV crashing into a crowd at a bus stop in front of a shelter for migrants and the homeless in Brownsville on Sunday morning. Police have confirmed at least some of the deceased are migrants. They say the driver was immediately taken into custody and taken to a hospital where he was being treated for injuries. The police have ordered tests to see if the driver was intoxicated. They have not publicly identified him so far.
MARTIN: Have the authorities said anything about whether this was an intentional act?
ROSE: The driver has only been charged with reckless driving, but more charges may be coming. Lieutenant Martin Sandoval of the Brownsville Police Department said that the incident is, quote, "looking more and more like an intentional act," unquote.
MARTIN: So, as we said, this incident comes at what seems to already be a tense moment at the U.S.-Mexico border. You've been reporting there. You've been talking to people on both sides. What are they telling you?
ROSE: Nearly everyone expects a big jump in migration, at least in the short run, as these pandemic restrictions lift. Title 42 has blocked migrants from seeking asylum for several years now. So you have tens of thousands of desperate migrants all up and down the border in border cities and in migrant camps. They're waiting for a chance to seek asylum in the U.S. No one is quite sure how they're going to react on Thursday when these restrictions lift, but already we are seeing some of them cross the border in pretty large numbers, straining the resources of immigration authorities and also of the local humanitarian groups and municipalities near the border.
MARTIN: Is the Biden administration ready for this?
ROSE: A lot of its critics say no, especially Republicans and immigration hardliners. They say the administration's policies have led to record numbers of migrant apprehensions in recent years. They're urging the Biden administration to change course and extend Title 42. And it is not just Republicans who are concerned. Here's Kyrsten Sinema, the senator from Arizona, the former Democrat, now independent, speaking on CBS's "Face The Nation" yesterday.
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KYRSTEN SINEMA: The Biden administration had two years to prepare for this and did not do so. And our state is going to bear the brunt, and migrants will be in crisis. It will be a humanitarian crisis because we are not prepared.
MARTIN: And how does the administration respond to these critics?
ROSE: Well, the White House disputes that. The administration says it has moved a lot of resources to the border, including 1,500 active-duty troops who will be helping to support the Border Patrol. It's also moved a lot of money to border communities and humanitarian groups that may have to shelter and care for migrants. Here is Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Texas on Friday, where he was overseeing preparations. Here's part of what he said.
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ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: The border is not open, it has not been open, and it will not be open subsequent to May 11.
ROSE: Mayorkas says the administration plans to begin enforcing tough new restrictions on asylum this week that will make it much harder for migrants to get asylum if they cross the border illegally. Mayorkas is urging migrants to use new legal pathways to apply from their own countries and not to make the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thank you.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.