Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, discuss the Biden administration’s expansion of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program and recent developments in U.S. immigration and border policies. Gustavo Solis, investigative border reporter for KPBS San Diego, discuss sources for information and data on immigration topics and framing stories at the U.S. southern border. The webinar will be moderated by Carla Anne Robbins, senior fellow at CFR and former deputy editorial page editor at the New York Times.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Local Journalists Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
CFR is an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, publisher, and educational institution focusing on U.S. foreign policy. We are also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
This webinar is part of CFR’s Local Journalists Initiative, created to help you draw connections between the local issues you cover and the national and international dynamics. Our programming puts you in touch with CFR resources and expertise on international issues and provides a forum for sharing best practices.
So this webinar is on the record. The video and transcript will be posted on our website after the fact at CFR.org/localjournalists.
So we are pleased to have Julia Gelatt, Gustavo Solis, and host Carla Anne Robbins to have this discussion on reporting on President Biden’s border policies.
Julia Gelatt is senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute where she focuses on U.S. immigration policies, demographic trends, and the implications of local, state, and federal immigration policy. Previously she worked as a research associate at the Urban Institute. Her mixed methods research focused on state policies toward immigrants, barriers to and facilitators of immigrant families, access to public benefits, and identifying youth victims of human trafficking.
Gustavo Solis is an investigative border reporter for KPSB (sic; KPBS) Public Media in San Diego. In 2018, he was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team in explanatory journalism for “The Wall: Unknown Stories, Unintended Consequences,” which was a series led by the Arizona Republic involving over thirty journalists to cover the border wall separating Mexico and the U.S.
And Carla Anne Robbins, our host, is a senior fellow at CFR. She is the faculty director of the Master of International Affairs Program, and clinical professor of national security studies at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs. Previously she was deputy editorial page editor at the New York Times and chief diplomatic correspondent at the Wall Street Journal.
So thank you all, and Carla, over to you.
ROBBINS: Thank you, Irina, and I’m going to make a pitch—a naked pitch—which is starting tomorrow I’m going to be the co-host of the Council’s The World Next Week podcast, and it’s—I would like to say it’s not Only Murders in the Building, but I’m hoping that people will tune in.
So with that, having done my self-promotion, thank you so much everybody for joining us. Thank you to the journalists on the call. We’re going to chat up here and then throw it over to you guys for questions, but if you have questions while we are talking, please, you know, throw them into the chat, raise your hand so we know that you are—you know, you can help shape that conversation as well.
And we really appreciate the work you do. We know it’s an incredibly hard time to be in the business, and you’re doing the extraordinary job, and thank you so much for doing it.
So Gustavo and Julia, thank you for being here. Julia, can we start with you? As a researcher, can you give us a sense of the scale of what we’re looking at here—you know, how many migrants are trying to enter the U.S., and how much has it changed since Biden came into office from the Trump years?
GELATT: Sure. Yeah, last year we saw 2.4 million people being encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is, you know, a really big increase. As soon as President Biden took office, we actually saw the border numbers starting to increase, which isn’t necessarily, you know, because of him. This coincided, of course, with kind of the reopening after really low border numbers during COVID-19, and kind of a resumption of trends that we saw starting in 2019 as well. But we really are seeing big numbers coming at the border.
And also we’re seeing really different trends of who is showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border, so, you know, over kind of a longer history there are a lot of Mexican immigrants, a lot of Mexican single adults coming, and then in the Trump years we were really seeing kind of more Central American families and unaccompanied minors.
Last year, for the first time, there were more Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans encountered than Central Americans, so we’re seeing just kind of ongoing shifts of who is coming at the border. So, yeah, really kind of big increases and also really different groups that are coming.
ROBBINS: How can you explain the different groups? It’s not like Cuba is more repressive this year than it was last year. Venezuela is more repressive this year than it—you know, Haiti, granted, is worse, but that, you know, a long story. Why is it a different mix?
GELATT: I think partly it’s the economic impact of the pandemic. That was, you know, tough all around the world, but we’ve seen a lot of economic downturns in the region. That was also why there were Haitians coming to the border in prior years that had been living in South America, but with some economic challenges increasing there, they were making their way to the United States.
There are also—I think in some cases, even if the conditions aren’t where I said—sort of like a frustration point. In Cuba we saw big protests, and then a big crackdown, and kind of a sense that, well, this isn’t about to change; the same thing in Venezuela. You know, there had been some kind of hope of the opposition, and it seems like the opposition is really not succeeding. And so, you know, kind of giving up on the hope of change at home can lead people to leave.
Maybe also there are people who, you know, were kind of frustrated when the pandemic hit, but delayed their travel while mobility was really hard, and there were public health concerns, safety concerns, and then it became an easier time to move. So I think there are a lot of different push factors.
But there is also the impact of President Trump’s—sorry—President Biden’s border policies, which is that, you know Title 42 is still in place—those are really quick expulsions back across the border to Mexico. Those had been mainly applied to Mexicans and to Central Americans, and Mexico wasn’t really wanting to accept nationalities that it also couldn’t return to their home countries. The U.S. doesn’t really have a way to deport people back to—or didn’t—back to Venezuela, to these other countries, and so Mexico also didn’t and so wasn’t wanting to take people expelled under Title 42 from these countries.
Now, you know, we’re seeing changing border policies, and Mexico is agreeing to take more nationalities under Title 42, which seems to be having some impact on the numbers. But the word was getting out, you know, that certain nationalities were going to be let into the United States and, you know, that this might be a good time to travel. So the administration is now kind of working on countering that narrative with its new policies.
So Gustavo, you are down close to the border. You’re talking to people there. Two things: I want to talk about the factors of the—the push factors, but talk a little bit about the pull factors to start. Certainly the critics of President Biden would say, President Trump is really tough, and that’s why people stopped coming, and this is all because people think they’re going to get a really, you know, immigrant-loving deal from Biden.
How much of this is, you know, perception rather than reality? Are people coming because they think they are going to get a better deal from Biden—people you talk to, and how much of it is just, you know, the factors that Julia is talking about?
SOLIS: I think most of it is the factors that Julia is talking about—at least the main ones, right? The employment factors, right, working conditions, poverty, violence, discrimination. I mean, I think what Julia said was spot on and very—a key part of this is the shift in migration from traditionally adult men coming for work to now it’s a little bit more diverse, more families, women, children; people seeking kind of humanitarian aid, and I think that shift is very, very important because our entire immigration system was built on one type of migrant—the men, employment—and we’re experiencing a different one which presents a whole slew of different challenges.
But back to your question, I think when I talk to them, and I ask them why they are coming and why they decided to come, all the reasons they point to are turmoil back home, whether they are coming directly from impoverished states of Mexico like Guerrero and Oaxaca, or like you mentioned, they are Haitian nationals who have spent the last couple of years in Venezuela or Chile and are kind of finally making their way over here.
They do mention some of the policies. Especially like during the election, I do remember hearing in Tijuana there was a big migrant camp, and that essentially formed because there was—during the 2020 election Biden ran on this campaign of rolling back some of Trump’s policies, restoring a more humane system to asylum, and there was this expectation that, you know, not overnight, but eventually they would be able to kind of have a safe and orderly way to get into the country. That unfortunately hasn’t happened to the majority of them.
And I would say that that was kind of a factor once they got here, but I wouldn’t say that is a major push factor to when people are deciding to leave their homes. I would say one of the last things they are looking at is U.S. immigration policies. It’s all the internal issues going on there.
ROBBINS: This is such a hard trip for people, and it’s just so hard in so many ways. It’s physically hard. It’s dangerous. The potential for exploitation is so enormous. Why are so many women coming now with children that didn’t do it before?
You know, I worked in Central America for a long time. Conditions were bad when I worked in Central America. You know, it’s a—why suddenly would women be more willing to take these risks with their children that they weren’t willing to five, ten years ago?
SOLIS: Well, based on interviews I’ve done, it’s a calculated risk. And I think in their mind they’re seeing—at least the people for—like the asylum seekers and people fleeing violence—they would see that, if they stay at home, they will most likely die. I mean, just to be frank, they’ve been threatened individually or collectively as a family, and they view the dangerous journey as being less dangerous than staying at home. That’s the only way I can kind of understand that situation. I mean, nobody comes here thinking it’s easy. Maybe there are people who think it’s easier than it actually is, and that might be some human smuggling kind of putting these ideas in their head that it’s an easy walk across the border; it’s not a multi-day-long hike through dangerous territory.
But I think they expect it to be difficult. They know it’s dangerous. I mean, they have friends who have done it before, and people go missing all the time. And they are aware of all the challenges, but I think they are making a calculated risk. And more than anything, it’s speaks to the level of uncertainty and desperation back home for them.
ROBBINS: Julia, can you explain just some basic terminology for us? What’s the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker—that’s the first thing. And the second thing, can you explain what, under international law, are the obligations of the United States when people come declaring, asking for asylum?
GELATT: Sure. So, yeah, refugees and asylum seekers—asylees—are people who are fleeing persecution, who meet the standard of having a well-founded fear of—either have experienced persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on the basis of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, things like that.
Refugees are processed outside of the United States, so refugees are someone who is outside of their country of origin, but they have—you know, they have experienced persecution, they have a fear of persecution, and they are processed through a combination of U.N. agencies—specifically UNHCR—and then the U.S. government. And if they are found to be refugees in need of protection and, you know, are chosen to come to the United States versus some other country in the world, they will come to the United States with that refugee status, with a legal status. They will come in an orderly way. They will be placed in a U.S. community, given refugee resettlement assistance.
Asylum seekers are people who come onto U.S. territory, whether they flew here or come to the border and get onto U.S. soil, and then ask for protection in the United States meeting those same standards. Asylum seekers go through a really long process of being put into removal proceeding and then asking for asylum—usually—in immigration court, and then having those claims adjudicated. If they are found to, you know, be an asylee; if they are granted asylum, then they are also eligible for that same resettlement assistance, although usually by then people have been in the country for quite a while, so they are less likely to be taking advantage of that.
Under international law, we have an obligation—we have agreed that we have an obligation that anyone who gets on to U.S. soil has the right to present their asylum claim and to have that claim heard, which, you know, is something that you might not know, given some of the policies of the Trump administration and even some of the things that are being discussed as future possibilities by the Biden administration, but that is our obligation.
ROBBINS: And so are people—given our obligations under international law—and it really isn’t just—I mean, international law—of course there’s, like, no police to enforce international law, but there is—there’s a pretty accepted norm internationally that under international law, people have the right to claim asylum, and that has to be adjudicated, but it’s adjudicated by a particular sort of judge, right? And how—is there just a huge backlog of cases? Can we kick people out while their cases are being adjudicated? You know, have different administrations dealt with that differently? I mean, what’s the process?
GELATT: Yeah, so asylum claims are adjudicated in immigration courts, which are part of the executive branch—they are not part of the judicial branch—by an immigration judge. Right now there is a backlog of two million cases before the immigration courts, and eight hundred thousand of those are asylum cases. So there’s an enormous backlog. It’s taking an average of over four years for someone to have their asylum claim fully adjudicated in immigration court.
People have the right to stay while that’s ongoing. The exception would be if there is something, you know, very severe in their background. If they have terrorist links or something like that, they could lose their right to claim asylum. But for the most part, they have the right to stay while they are waiting for that full adjudication.
The Biden administration has taken a step to try to speed this up. They are sending some asylum cases that originate at the border to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has its own backlog, although it’s a little bit smaller. So you have those cases hopefully processed more quickly rather than going—waiting in the court backlog and going through the court system. It’s also a friendlier process. That’s in its pilot stage and, you know, we’ll see how that works out and whether that can be ramped up. But that’s one idea for trying to get people their asylum answers more quickly.
ROBBINS: And did the Trump administration deal with it the same way? Did they—did they—if you got in and you claimed asylum, you were dealt with in the same way?
GELATT: So they tried a number of things. One was having people wait in Mexico through the Remain in Mexico policy, so they would have a U.S. court date in the immigration courts in the United States, but had to wait in Mexico while that, you know, court backlog worked and while they were waiting for their day in court.
Under Title 42, the border expulsion order, we are not allowing people to claim asylum in the United States. People who are expelled under Title 42, if they assert that they are afraid of torture in Mexico or their home country, they might be able to come into the United States rather than being expelled, but otherwise, they are not able to present their asylum claims. They are just turned right back to Mexico, which is why many people try again to come into the United States. Kind of at this point it’s a game of chance. If you are expelled under Title 42, you keep trying to cross until maybe you eventually make it into the country.
There also—you know, the Trump administration also put into place a ban that was blocked by the courts, and then allowed, and then blocked again that said that anyone who had passed through another country on the way to the United States and hadn’t taken advantage of their asylum system would be ineligible for asylum in the United States. And that’s—the Biden administration is talking about some kind of policy where people who come to the border between ports of entry will have some kind of higher bar to meet in seeking asylum. We’re waiting to see the details of that. Some have said that that will be like that Trump rule—if you’ve crossed through another country you won’t be able to seek asylum. The Biden administration says it’s nothing like the Trump rule but, you know, we don’t exactly know what that’s going to look like yet to really assess that.
ROBBINS: So Gustavo, when you talk to people who are seeking to come into the United States and who are going to make asylum claims—and this question of a well-founded fear of persecution is an interesting one. Is it political persecution or is it gang persecution? These are all interesting questions. You know, if you have an abusive husband, you know, an abusive partner—you know, these are violence against women questions.
I mean, how much do the people you speak with understand the system? And I’m not saying that they’ve been coached to say the right thing, but it matters what they say, both to make their claim to get into the country, to remain in the country, and when the day finally comes for them to go to court because they are not guaranteed a lawyer, I assume. How much do they understand, and are there NGOs or—you know, do they get some support to at least understand the complexity of the system? Because, I mean, I’ve written somewhat about this, and I’m listening to Julia, and I’ve frantically taking notes because every time I read a story I think I understand it, but it’s pretty complex.
SOLIS: Oh, it’s incredibly complex, and the question actually brings up—raises a lot of issues just from even like what asylum is, right? You’d think somebody fleeing gang violence would be a pretty good cause, but that’s not always the cause, and Julia, I think, maybe you could help me out. There are—the way the asylum system is set up in our country, you need, like, certain kinds of persecution, be it religious, gender, ethnic, and I think—and you can correct me if I’m wrong, Julia, but generally speaking, violence—like gang violence and just street crime doesn’t really have—you can’t—there’s no category for that in the way we understand asylum right now legally. So it does present a lot of challenges to their case.
The other big issue you touched on is access to attorneys, right? Immigration court is not part of the quote, unquote, “regular court system.” It’s not like in criminal court where you are guaranteed a lawyer. In immigration court, you are—you have the right to a lawyer if you can pay for one or find one to do it pro bono, and a lot of people don’t have that luxury. There are some nonprofits along the border trying to provide legal aid. They do workshops. Al Otro Lado is a good one that does work throughout the border. They kind of do a little bit of asylum screenings, and every once in a while they will be able to provide legal aid to an individual family or migrant, but it’s a drop in the bucket. I mean, the number of people that require legal assistance to manage an incredibly complex case is a lot more than the lawyers who are, A, trained, and B, willing to take them pro bono.
I think the Remain in Mexico program really kind of shed light on this, right, at one point. With the Remain in Mexico program you could come to the border, present an asylum claim, and you would start the process, but you would be forced to live in Mexico while that case was adjudicated. The problem with that is that almost nobody got lawyers from that one, right? To get a lawyer you would have to, A, find a lawyer willing to spend the entire day crossing the border in Mexico, meeting with their client, screening their client. It’s just not feasible, especially when you are doing it pro bono. At one point under the Remain in Mexico, I think the people in that program who actually completed and got an asylum status was less than 1 percent, so it just kind of shows you how difficult it can be.
ROBBINS: So this is obviously not just a border issue. This is an issue across the country, not least because—unless we’re Native Americans, all of us are, you know, one or two generations away—if not immediately, you know, immigrants. And so say I live in X state that’s hundreds of miles away from the border, and I want to understand the challenges facing people who are trying to get through this legal system. How would I start that? You know, how do I—you know, where do I go to begin to understand that and, you know, understand the system, understand how many people in my community are, you know, going through this—without scaring the you-know-what out of people? (Laughs.)
SOLIS: You go to immigration court. That will be the first and best place to start. I mean, they’re all over the country.
ROBBINS: Are there immigration courts everywhere? I mean, where are they?
SOLIS: Most, if not all, major cities have one. I mean, there’s one here in San Diego. I don’t know exactly where all of them are, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t one in every single state—definitely one in every major city. And you can—I mean, it’s a court. You can go in and just sit down, spend a morning or an afternoon just hearing the cases.
I mean, back to your question about whether migrants understand the process, like, some of it can be heartbreaking because it’s clear that they don’t. I mean, I’ve seen children as young as eight representing themselves in immigration court through a translator, so like just imagine that, right? An eight-year-old, semi-literate child in their language trying to present a claim for themselves in court in a system that they—you know, a system most Americans don’t understand.
But if you want to get from a reporting perspective to that point where you are talking to the people actually involved, go to immigration court. If you sit there long enough, you will start to see recurring patterns. You will—I mean, that’s where the immigration lawyers are, so that’s where you will get a couple of good contacts, as well. And you can identify one or two cases to highlight and talk—write something about a bigger issue going on.
ROBBINS: Julia, how do you answer that question? How do we—if we want to—I mean, you’re a consumer of news as well as a maker of news. How do we—if we don’t live on the border, how do we begin to understand what’s in reality happening in every city, every community?
GELATT: I mean, I rely on the reporting of many of the people on this call-in, many reporters, to know what’s happening at the local level. But, you know, at MPI we tend to look at things kind of at a national level. We produce a lot of data, have a lot of data tools that you can kind of see where immigrants of different nationalities are. We use the data from TRAC, from Syracuse, that shows, you know, what’s happening in the immigration courts, how many cases are being filed, what are the nationalities, what are the outcomes. So, yeah, we use a lot of data, and then I think, you know, right, the immigration courts are the place to go. And then there are networks of legal service providers. They are completely overworked and overstretched, but they are really on the front lines, and really, I think in every community, and trying to do what they can to provide representation of people. So those may be hard people to get on an interview, but those are good places to go to talk with people and to see where people are going.
And then, you know, likewise are—I think in most cities now there are really great immigrant-serving organizations, nonprofit organizations that may or may not have legal services but are trying to kind of meet the broader needs of immigrants in their communities, and in many cases, also advocating for this community and really want to be, sharing their stories and talking with reporters about what they are seeing and what they are facing.
SOLIS: And if I could add, I think a resource—if you live in a city that is—if you are lucky enough to live in a city that has a consulate, I would reach out to them. Here in San Diego, the Mexican consulate is very helpful, very open with us, and they are—they have an interesting perspective and connections with, obviously, the Mexican foreign nationals, but also undocumented immigrants and different groups that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to connect to.
ROBBINS: Can you—and that’s really useful. Julia, can you go back and talk about your data sources—this Syracuse database called TRAC? Can you tell us a little bit about it? And we’ll send links out to everybody, but could you just tell us what that is?
GELATT: Yeah, so all credit to them, to the TRAC folks for putting out the data, so they regularly—
ROBBINS: Is it T-R-A-C-C or T-R-A-C-K?
GELATT: T-R-A-C. I think if you Google that and immigration, you can find kind of a—it’s somewhat of a wonky page—(laughs)—but you can find a lot of their tools. So they regularly submit Freedom of Information Act requests to the government, and they get information on, like, every single immigration court case. They also have data on, you know, how many immigrants are in alternatives to detention, which is a new way that ICE is using to track immigrants that they have encountered.
At MPI we have a—what we call our data hub, which is all of our data tools. There is lots of—tons of data in there. Mostly we’re using data from the Census Bureau, so we’re kind of giving a broad picture of who are the immigrants in the United States, what countries are they from, where are they living, what are their characteristics, what are their experiences in the United States. We also have international data tools.
So if you go to migrationpolicy.org and then look for our data hub, or just Google MPI data hub, you can find all of the data that we have so that you can kind of get a bigger picture of, you know, who are the immigrants in your community, in your state, in the country overall.
ROBBINS: That’s hugely helpful. That’s great.
So on January 5, President Biden announced a new asylum policy which denies people from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti—and they previously announced this on Venezuela—the chance to apply for asylum if they cross illegally from Mexico. But they also raised the number of people who can apply for those two-year humanitarian parole, which is basically a temporary work visa. They claim that this was—you know, this very creative way that’s working to stem the flow of undocumented migrants, and the Department of Homeland Security announced in the middle of January, that they said that—had seven-day average from December 11—had gone down to mid-January, had fallen 97 percent because of this new policy for these four groups.
Is that right? I mean, is this policy actually working, persuading people that if they just wait, that they have a chance of getting work visas? That’s to Julia and then to—and then to, Gustavo, what you’re saying.
GELATT: Yeah, it certainly seems to be working in the short term, if by working they mean reducing the number of people trying to cross the border without authorization—from these countries. Whether that—whether that will hold long term, I think we’ll have to see. There’s just a lot of questions—(laughs)—around this policy, so nationalities of these four countries are now being expelled to Mexico under Title 42. But there are also these parole programs where, if people have a sponsor in the United States, and they have a passport, and they apply and go through a—you know, background check and other basic screening, they can come to the United States with humanitarian parole, which is a temporary right to stay for two years and work. It’s unclear what happens at the end of those two years. That’s one big question here.
Another big question is whether the people who are, you know, really desperate and fleeing their homes, and making these really dangerous journeys, are those the same people who can wait at home, find a sponsor, you know, get a passport, and be able to come through this parole program? We’ve seen already thousands of people who have been able to take advantage of the parole program, so that’s another success that the administration can point to. If people who would have otherwise made the dangerous journey can take advantage of parole, I think that’s a really big win.
Although, I should note that there is now litigation by several states, and then Stephen Miller’s new organization, against this parole program, saying that it exceeds executive authority to create a program like this. So, that challenge is hanging out there. (Laughs.) And they filed that suit in a friendly, to them, you know, part of Texas, where they may be able to get an injunction to stop that parole program. So that will—that could really stop that.
But it—you know, it’s a combination of carrot and stick, carrot being this new pathway to the United States, and the stick being tougher border enforcement for these groups. The combination seems to, in the short term, you know, have had this impact. But people may be kind of just waiting to see how this plays out, and watching for a little bit. And then, depending how it does play out, that will shape, you know, future decision making, and whether those border numbers start to go up again, I think.
ROBBINS: So, Gustavo, what are you seeing? Is this working? I mean, I understand working is a relative term—
ROBBINS:—it’s by their definition of what working is.
SOLIS: Yeah, I—TBD, I think, just echoing what Julia said, right? It is a fact that the numbers of certain nationalities that are included in this program are going down. The most interesting issues I’ve seen is just that the method of obtaining this humanitarian parole is through this mobile phone app that isn’t really working for a lot of people. So I think if that app, CBP One, continues to not really deliver, then I would anticipate the numbers will go up, just out of sheer desperation.
Other problems with the app, CBP One, solely available in English and Spanish right now, so if you’re an immigrant who doesn’t speak either of those, you know, good luck. Obviously, you need a smartphone, you need a reliable internet connection. That’s not always a given in border towns.
And there’s just this sort of—the way it works, I mean, it’s like—one of the sources I talk to just described it as, like, Ticketmaster, right? It’s based—like, every morning, you get up—or I think it’s nine in the East Coast, six here in California—and you sign up, and try to sign up for an appointment. And if you get it, great. If you don’t, you know, good luck. Try again tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. It’s not really based on who has the highest need, or is in the most danger.
And I don’t think it really—it sounds great in theory, it sounds great coming out of Washington, right? Like, oh, they can just download the app and sign up, and do it that way. In practice, at the border, particularly for people in dangerous circumstances, it doesn’t really work out.
So, I think for now, it—we’re kind of—Julia said, wait and see. But there might come a time where people just kind of abandon the app, and then would kind of revert back out of desperation to crossing illegally.
ROBBINS: So, we have a question, yay.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
We are now in the question time. Abigayl Martin has a question. Abigayl, do you want to ask your question? If not, I can ask it for you.
Abigayl Martin asked, what does it take to be expelled under Title 42?
GELATT: So, when someone, yeah, comes across the U.S-Mexico border, the Border Patrol is making decisions, kind of based on resources that they have, who they’ll process into the United States, who they’ll put into detention, who might already have a removal order, they can remove them, you know, using that old removal order.
One of their options is to expel someone under Title 42. That’s the quickest, fastest, least resource-intensive option that they have, because it basically doesn’t involve any processing. They just send someone right back to Mexico. So—but Mexico, of course, controls who comes across their borders. So Mexico, you know, had agreed to take, of course, Mexicans, also people from the northern Central American countries under Title 42, and now, Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans.
But last month, only 20 percent of people who were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border were expelled under Title 42. Or, only 20 percent of encounters ended in an expulsion—it’s really events, not people. But so, most people are being processed into the United States under regular rules. But some of them are being expelled under Title 42.
ROBBINS: So, we have a question from Phillip Martin from—I think from WGBH. Phillip, do you want to ask your—ask the question?
Q: Sure, it’s—since it’s a long one.
I’m always—I continue to be amazed by the inability, it seems, of the White House, and for that matter, many activists, to explain exactly what is happening, when you see these occasional stories of—that were—that are used politically—when you see, quote, unquote, tens of thousands of individuals lined up at the border.
I’m trying to understand why it is that the White House, and for that matter, activists, seem to have a difficult time explaining accurately what is happening on the border. And I tend to believe that the reason it is, is because it’s a complex issue that is difficult to explain in simplistic terms. But because it’s politicized, it has taken on a life of its own.
I’m just wondering if our—if Julia and Gustavo could put that—could basically talk about that form of communication, why it seems so difficult to get that across to most Americans, it seems.
ROBBINS: Gustavo, do you—do you—you must encounter a lot of prejudice, too, from people, and—as well as confusion from readers. But you know, the pictures are very compelling, as Phillip says. And then there’s all this stuff about caravans coming and invading the United States, and all of that. I mean, how do you deal with that, as a writer and a reporter?
SOLIS: Well, I think Phillip’s right, in just recognizing that these are incredibly complex and nuanced issues, right? It’s very difficult to sum up even something as simple as, like, a Title 42, without—(laughs)—a couple of lines of background and explanation behind it.
I think the problem, especially with information coming out of Washington, is that the rhetoric is just so divorced from the reality at this point, right? You can only start talking about this topic so long before somebody mentions a phrase, like open borders, invasion, amnesty. I mean, all those things don’t really mean anything to me. (Laughs.) I don’t really understand them, because they’re used in a variety of different contexts. I think from a reporting standpoint, you should avoid using those phrases that sound awesome, but don’t really mean anything. And there should be kind of a balance between going that route and going the super wonky, legalese route.
I mean, you’re only as good as your sources, so I think in terms of sources, I would avoid whenever possible, using elected officials—(laughs)—in D.C. or state capitals. I mean, just, if anyone tuned into the House Judiciary Committee hearing, like, it’s clear that a lot of these lawmakers don’t know the basic function of customs and border protection sometimes. So, I would just rely on experts, and really framing the stories on the individual migrants, asylum seekers, kind of how it impacts them. I think that simplifies it very well. Because you kind of only have to focus on one person and what’s going on with them, instead of trying to cover the border.
But I—Phillip, I kind of echo what you’re feeling, and said, with—especially with the frustration of just how complicated and convoluted some of this can be. It’s very easy to mess up.
ROBBINS: And it will get—
Q: Thank you.
ROBBINS: —I’m sorry—it will get even more politicized, I suspect, if the Republicans in the House go ahead with their threat to call for impeaching Mayorkas from Homeland Security. And this could be—this could really become a, just sort of a made-for—made-for politicization television moment. So, we’ll hear—we’ll hear a lot more of this.
We have a question from Jessica Montoya, which I’m going to read quickly, just because we have lots of questions coming in, yay.
And I think this is good for Julia. So, Jessica, if you don’t mind, I will—I will read it.
What Jessica writes is: I’m from San Antonio, Texas, and this topic is everyday coverage for us. With all of these policies and restrictions to come in, every day people are led in and driven to immigrant centers, and then from there, they can go wherever. So, under what laws are these individuals coming in? If some have to, you know, do the refugee asylum process or are expelled under Title 42, I think, you know, how can some people get to come in and other people get expelled?
GALETT: Yeah, I think I mentioned that there—that’s a great question, and it’s confusing. (Laughs.) And there are a bunch of different pieces of immigration law in here.
When people come across the border, there are a number of ways that they can be processed. They could be expelled under Title 42. If they’re not, they could be put into immigrant detention. The Biden administration isn’t detaining families with children, so this would only apply to adults who are traveling by themselves or with other adults. But they could be put into immigrant detention, and then once they’re there, they could be there for a while, or they could be there for a short period.
A lot of people—with the really high border numbers coming, and kind of overwhelmed government systems, a lot of people are released into the United States. And that looks like two different things. One thing is they’re issued a notice to appear in immigration court, so that’s the beginning of deportation proceedings. That can happen right at the border. They travel on to their community, but they have this court date waiting for them, and at some point in the future—but it can take a while, because of backlogs—they’ll go into the immigration court. And then they can, you know, if they want to claim asylum, they can present their asylum claims. Usually, there are multiple hearings that people have over time in immigration court, one to kind of schedule things, and then one to actually get into their asylum case.
But whether they claim asylum or not, they’re in removal proceedings. And at the end of that, they could be ordered deported; they could be given asylum.
Other people that are processed into the U.S. are told, because the government is overrun, and they don’t have time to kind of process those notices to appear at immigration court, they’re released and told, here’s the local ICE office in the place that you’re going. Go check in with them, and they’ll issue your notice to appear in court. And also, we’re enrolling you in alternatives to detention, meaning that you either have an ankle bracelet, or more likely, we’re giving you this cell phone app. You have to check in, you know, daily, show your face, or we’ll be tracking your location or something, some kind of monitoring, to try to make sure that people comply with these instructions to check in with ICE. And then that again will start their immigration court proceedings.
So people are being let into the United States, but it’s not like they’re just being let in. They’re being let in to wait for their removal proceedings. People under general order can’t be removed from the United States without having a formal removal order from an immigration judge. The exception is Title 42; there may be some other exceptions. (Laughs.) But so, that’s why people are put into removal proceedings.
I hope that clarifies, rather than making it more complicated.
ROBBINS: Jessica, do you have a follow-up for that?
I think you answered her question.
So, we have a question from Rebecca Santana. Rebecca, do you want to answer your—ask your question? Or shall I read it?
Jessica says thank you. Yes, answered.
Rebecca Santana, do you want to ask your question?
Q: No, you can go ahead and read it. Can you hear me?
ROBBINS: Sure. Although—
Q: Go ahead and read it. (Laughs.)
ROBBINS: OK. (Laughs.) Rebecca, where are you from? I’m not actually looking at the list right now because I’m trying to—
Q: Oh, OK. I’m in D.C.
ROBBINS: OK. OK.
So Rebecca asks: Can both of you talk through the process of credible fear hearings? Where they happen, who’s usually doing the interview, and what happens at the end of the hearing? Any insight you can give into that process would be helpful.
Gustavo, I assume that you go to credible fear hearings? Can you talk about that?
SOLIS: I can’t talk about that too much. That actually happens before the actual, like, hearing and court case begins. That’s actually—I think, Julia, you could talk more about that—but that’s one of the first steps to kind of establish that you have a reason to stay in the country, and have a shot at asylum. That’s, like, really early on.
GALETT: Yeah, I can talk about that.
That’s actually an option at the border that I skipped over, because it’s not happening a lot these days. But something else that can happen at the border, besides being expelled under Title 42, put into detention, or just released, is that people can be put into something called expedited removal. This is what most people went through at the border when border numbers were lower in, like, the late Obama years, early Trump years.
And what this means is that it’s a process to quickly remove people from the country. As defense against being quickly removed through expedited removal, people coming to the border can say that they are afraid of going home, and then they’re given something called a credible fear screening. So, it’s kind of an initial screening to see if they have—if they’re likely to have some valid asylum claims. It’s a pretty low bar on purpose, because people are just coming across the border; they don’t have their papers in order; they’re in a state of, you know, kind of chaos and confusion. But if people can meet this kind of low bar to find that they have credible fear, then they can be released into the United States, and go into their asylum hearings.
This takes more time, and usually, people are detained while they wait for their credible fear screening. It takes more government resources, so that’s why this is happening in a smaller percentage of cases. More people are either being expelled or released into the United States right now. But this is part of the regular order of border processing.
ROBBINS: So, is it German Visbal with LTV Univision in Miami? German, would you like to ask your question?
Is it—I just—I have, my name is German Visbal. I—yes, German, do you want to ask your question? Or should I read it?
FASKIANOS: Carla, this is Irina. I think he needs to unmute himself.
ROBBINS: Can you unmute yourself?
Well, I can read it: For a long time, we’ve been discussing—I used to live in Miami—for a long time—(laughs)—yes, I’m going to read it for you. We couldn’t hear you.
For a long time, we’ve been discussing that the policies that we see today are more an improvisation. Do you consider it this way?
Gustavo, does it feel like they’re just making it up as they go along? Or does there seem to be a—some method to this?
SOLIS: No, they are just making it up—(laughs)—as they go along. And for decades now, right? And that’s because in the absence of legitimate, comprehensive immigration reform, we’re kind of reduced to this system, where most new immigration policy happens either through executive action, like DACA, or court challenges, right? That’s kind of what kept Remain in Mexico, and is keeping Title 42, like, dead or alive, dead or alive, depending on what month it is.
But it is very, I don’t know, reactionary might be a good term for it. But it’s tiring. I mean, you know, President Trump came in with a bunch of different executive orders, and things do change overnight. I think that add—this kind of culture and environment adds to the uncertainty, the confusion. And the complexity of our immigration system right now, is that it’s made up of executive orders for various administrations, and there’s a constant, like, dark shadow hanging on some individual policies in the—in the way of lawsuits, right? Depending on how one court rules, it can change the entire system overnight.
ROBBINS: Julia, is there—I mean, I know there’s no—almost no possibility that Congress is going to do anything, but maybe. Because there is a possibility. There are moderate Republicans who may make common cause with Democrats on some issues.
Is there any possibility of any sort of immigration reform? Or is that—or have you just stopped even paying attention to it, because it’s just so impossible to imagine?
GALETT: It is hard to be—
ROBBINS: And Lindsey Graham was supporting immigration reform. That’s exactly how old I am. (Laughter.)
GALETT: Yeah, it is really hard to be hopeful about the chances of immigration reform in Congress. I mean, Congress struggles to pass legislation in general, much less something, you know, really controversial like immigration. I think one thing that we’re really watching is the litigation over the DACA program. It looks like it’s kind of—it’s been somewhat slow-moving, but we could have a court decision in April. The judge could decide, you know, not only that the program was illegal—which is probably, likely, how he’ll rule—but also he could, you know, mean—he could allow that to mean that current DACA holders will lose their protections when their work authorization expires.
That, you know, I imagine would lead to a huge outcry, and tons of pressure on Congress.
Like, it could—that could not happen. This judge could also stay the impact of his ruling. You know, it could kind of continue as it is until it gets to the Supreme Court. But at some point, there might be an adverse ruling, and that would really push Congress. I think there’s such, you know, enormous support for DREAMers in the United States, and giving them a path to citizenship.
You know, and I hope that someday, there will, you know, be real reform. I mean, we really could use an update to our visa policies. You know, the president can use parole to try to let people in legally, but ultimately, Congress could give people a real visa pathway to the United States. Employers are hungry for workers, migrants want to come and work, and they want the safety of the United States.
If we can, you know, allow for that match between willing workers and willing employers, that could go a really, really long way, along with all kinds of other fixes that are needed in our immigration laws. But you know, hard to hope for those broader changes in the short run.
ROBBINS: So, can I take this moment here—I know this isn’t a border question, but I’m going to ask it just really quickly here. The Afghan Adjustment Act did not go through at the end of the year. Seventy-thousand-plus Afghans who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan who are here, their visas could potentially, you know, run out this year. What’s happening with that?
GALETT: Yeah, that’s another challenging one. I mean, there’s—there was such broad American support for the Afghans in allowing them to come to the United States, and you know, a big outpouring of support and help for Afghans once they arrived. And then that got caught up in politics too.
I mean, in the past, whenever the U.S. has had a big parole program—like after the end of the Vietnam War, or for Cubans—we’ve had an adjustment act, where people paroled in could adjust to permanent status. So, I am—maybe not in the next year or two, but you know, maybe, hopefully after that, there could be room for an Afghan Adjustment Act.
We also, of course, have seen over a hundred thousand Ukrainians paroled into the United States. You know, they also need a path to permanent residence, unless that war ends quickly, and people can go home. So, maybe there could be a combined push for those two populations, kind of as this all progresses.
A lot of Afghans are applying for asylum right now, and many of them will be successful in their asylum claims. But that’s a really difficult way for them to get a path to permanent residence, when we already decided to invest the resources to evacuate these Afghans here, because we saw them as, you know, having supported the U.S. government, and being in danger. So, an Afghan Adjustment Act would just make it a lot simpler for the Afghans, and for the government. It would—it would save a lot of resources when we have this big asylum backlog.
ROBBINS: So—(inaudible)—Julia, as I wait to see if there are any more questions. Are there? Ah, Sarah Betancourt.
Sarah, do you want to read your question, or voice it? Ah, feel free to read this out loud.
Sarah Betancourt, GBH News: Texas, Arizona, and Florida’s governors have bussed or flown immigrants from their states to cities and states with immigrant-friendly policies in the north for the past ten months. I remember one of the coldest—now, I’m going to add in here—one of the coldest nights in Washington, D.C., they also bussed them to the, funnily, vice president’s house. States like Massachusetts have seen two flights from DeSantis, but have seen overflow from New York City buses and local hospitals, ERs, airport.
Wondering if the communication between immigrant advocacy groups and state governments in the border states, and state and local governments in northern states has improved at all? It seems like every time there’s a group of unhoused immigrants, everyone scrambles. It took a while to create some kind of process to get immigrants into the already strained Massachusetts shelter system. And that effort seems to be failing. I’m particularly interested in Massachusetts, and how organizations and governments on border states are communicating, with advocacy groups helping groups up here prepare, and make sure people’s needs are being met.
Jump ball here.
GALETT: I can start, and feel free to add, Gustavo.
GALETT: So, yeah, the Texas governor was explicitly not communicating with the northern cities about, you know, when migrants were coming, which migrants were coming, any medical needs that they had when they arrived. But I—my understanding is that there are now relationships between the service providers in Texas, that are actually, you know, coordinating the migrants who voluntarily get on those buses, and then the service providers in D.C. and New York—which is not to say that there aren’t surprises, like changing the location of the dropoff.
In Arizona, they—there is explicit coordination between the local officials and, I don’t know, service providers in Arizona and the service providers in D.C., where those migrants are being bussed. They send manifests. They send information about medical needs. And so, the local communities can prepare.
I think your question also gets at, kind of more broadly, just, you know, the cities weren’t ready for this. We’re seeing a lot of—or we were seeing a lot of migrants who didn’t have U.S. ties. Traditionally, people who come to the United States, they know someone, they have somewhere to live when they first get here, and kind of have that initial safety net. But it seemed like particularly, a lot of the Venezuelans that were coming didn’t have that. And they were really depending on local governments for the very basic basics of shelter, and food, and you know, medical needs, and things like that.
So, it does raise the question of whether there could be more coordination. You asked about coordination between kind of border communities and receiving communities. But I think there could really be a role for the federal government as well. There is some funding that’s available as reimbursements, but I feel like there could be more coordination of, kind of, how do you provide these services? What are the federal resources available, that are—you know, this is a problem that’s a federal problem, but hitting states and localities. And then just information-sharing, about who’s coming, what the needs are, kind of models that have worked, what’s been tried and not worked so well, and just lessons learned, you know, I think there could be more of that.
SOLIS: Yeah, just to add a little bit. I know here in San Diego, the—I think—Julia, what you said about the fact that a lot of migrants coming in have established familial ties, friends, relatives, who they want to see—so, at least until a few years ago, most of the people who came, they would stay in a shelter in San Diego for two, three days, connect with their families, and then go either via bus or airplane to wherever their community was.
And that, I think, is still the case. But like you said, the people who don’t have those ties present a unique problem. They are a little bit less transitory, and they do require a little bit more resources. And that’s where people are struggling a little bit.
I know in the beginning, some of the people that were bussed to New York were kind of OK with it, because that’s where they wanted to end up, anyway. I mean, here in San Diego, and I would imagine most border cities, migrants don’t stay here. They go to their final destination. It’s just another part of the journey.
But there is something to be said about the chaos of forcing a city who isn’t used to being part of that traditional migration route to essentially create a new one by force, by just kind of bussing people there. Doesn’t make much sense, especially if there’s no communication.
ROBBINS: So, we have just a few minutes left. And I—David Lyons, from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has made a statement, rather than a question. David, do you want to explain your statement about—oh, ah, here we go.
So, David Lyons, from the Sun Sentinel noticed that they regularly receive announcements from the Coast Guard that it has repatriated migrants from different countries, multinational, who have been intercepted along the southeast Florida shoreline—you know, people on the same boat who come from different countries. Can they legally be returned to the country of their journey’s origin, without having their situation processed?
GALETT: I have to confess to being a little bit ignorant about the law in this situation. But if someone’s not on U.S. soil, they wouldn’t have that right to claim asylum. So I believe that that’s the case. I believe that they can just be returned to the country that they were coming from. And that generally is what happens when Haitians or Cubans are being intercepted at sea.
ROBBINS: And now that the Cubans are letting them be towed back, which they weren’t—you know, which they weren’t for a while.
So, final round. As we said, we just have a few minutes left. Julia, as a consumer, as well as a maker of news, what do you think we’re not covering, and we should be covering?
GALETT: That’s a tough question. I don’t have a great answer. But I just—I mean, I’m so grateful for all of the local coverage of, kind of, the impacts of things. As—I think, Gustavo, as you said, you know, we really closely follow what the administration is saying, and we read the press releases, and we read the announcements, and we kind of assess, like, what might this look like. But then we really rely on reporting to know how it plays out. What are the—what are individuals at the border, in U.S. communities, facing? What are they experiencing? You know, what are the unintended consequences of these policies? What are maybe the intended consequences? You know, how are—how are plans not kind of proceeding as they were planned, or, I don’t know, what—you know, what new trends are emerging?
So, I think just, really, kind of having that real-world impact of, you know, we know what the official statement was, or we know what the initial plan was. But what does that really look like when the rubber meets the road? That’s what I really appreciate when I’m consuming the news.
ROBBINS: Vertical integration.
So, Gustavo, you—I don’t feel sorry for you, because you get to live in a really great place. (Laughter.) But—it’s like 30 degrees in New York right now.
So, but if you weren’t in your really great place, and they said to you, go someplace else in the country, and follow this story, you know, what else would you be writing about, that would also be developing that? You know, what different experiences away from the border would you like to be reporting on?
SOLIS: I think there’s so many to choose from. And every community is kind of affected differently. Like, I’m thinking of the—all of the meatpacking facilities in the Midwest. Those are mostly migrant-run. Even in San Francisco, there’s more—I think the immigration issue would be one about visas, and employment, and lack of access to those. I think it hits everyone differently.
And I think the problem is, when we think and only discuss immigration and its relation to the border, we really limit the stories that we can tell over there. So I would—I mean, every—I would assume every, or most communities in the U.S. have a large immigrant population, and that’s where, like, just go there. (Laughs.) Be there. I mean, half the story is just showing up and being there, listening to the right people. But if we keep on—I think, like you said—relying on, kind of, press releases coming out of the state capitol or Washington, then we’re not going to—I think we’re just going to keep on telling the same narrative, kind of pushing that. We’re not going to create new ones, or really expand people’s understanding.
ROBBINS: Well, this has been great. I just want to thank Gustavo Solis and Julia Gelatt. And of course, I want to thank Irina for bringing us all together, and thank everybody for such great questions.
So, Irina, I’m going to turn it back to you, just with the reminder that we are going to share with you Gustavo’s writing and Julia’s research, and links to the things that they mentioned. So you guys will have easier time doing your research.
So, back to you, Irina. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Carla, Julia, and Gustavo. We appreciate it.
You can follow Julia on Twitter at @J_Gelatt, Gustavo at @Journogoose, and Carla at @RobbinsCarla. So, go there. And as always, we encourage you to follow us. Visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for the latest developments and analysis on international trends, and how they are affecting the United States. And of course, do share with us your suggestions for future webinars. You can email us, [email protected].
Again, thank you all for being with us, and for today’s really terrific conversation. We appreciate it.
ROBBINS: Thank you, guys.