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How Biden's new restrictions on asylum seekers are impacting migrants at the border


It has been four days since President Biden's executive actions halting most asylum claims at the southern border have gone into effect. And now hundreds of migrants who attempted to cross into the U.S. illegally have been quickly deported, many of them to Mexico. NPR's immigration correspondent Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is in Tucson and joins us. Sergio, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: You were in Nogales yesterday on the Arizona-Mexico border. What did you see?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: So yesterday, I crossed into the Mexican side, and I hung around the port of entry and also went to a migrant shelter called Juan Bosco. And in both places, Scott, I saw migrants who had just been deported. They were wearing purple bracelets with their personal information.

They told me they had attempted to cross into the U.S. just a few days ago. And that's what Biden's executive actions were intended to do - right? - to expedite the removals of migrants who crossed illegally. But overall, I have to say I didn't see chaos or hecticness.

SIMON: What did migrants you talked to in Mexico say?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Many of them were disappointed to be turned back. I talked to a woman named Liz (ph). She's 30 years old. I met her right by one of the port of entries.

LIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Liz is from Guerrero, Mexico, and she's fleeing cartel violence, so she didn't want us to use her last name. She told me that on Wednesday, she tried to cross into the U.S. without authorization with her sons, ages 5 and 9, and she says she didn't know about the restrictions on asylum claims. So now she'll go back to Guerrero, the place she tried to flee.

SIMON: So she may not be trying to cross again. What about other migrants?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Well, other migrants have the same story. Many of them told me that they are now trying to figure out what to do next. But I have to say, none of the people I talked to told me they were going to try to cross again, which is what the Biden administration wants, right? The goal is to deter migrants from crossing without authorization.

Now, the Biden administration has said they want people to use legal pathways to claim asylum, like the CBP One app. That's the platform where migrants are encouraged to use to apply for asylum. The issue is that it is a lottery system, and there are only 1,500 appointments available per day. Guadalupe Flores (ph) from Michoacan, Mexico, waited eight months. But yesterday she had her appointment.

GUADALUPE FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: She says it's been maddening but that it is the legal process, which means she won't have to risk her life or that of her 14-year-old son. I tried to reach out again late last night to see whether she was allowed to stay in the U.S., but she didn't answer.

SIMON: Are border communities in Mexico ready for the surge?

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: Well, the shelters for immigrants have dealt with surges of migrants in the past, right? But the local Red Cross said over 200 people had been deported to Nogales, Sonora, by midday yesterday. So with hundreds of migrants deported every day, plus those already en route to the border, that could put a serious strain on cities like Nogales, which usually experience higher numbers of migrants during warmer months. Again, it is early. It's only been four days since the policy was implemented. But that's what it seems could happen in the days ahead.

SIMON: NPR's Sergio Martínez-Beltrán. Thanks so much for being with us today, Sergio.

MARTÍNEZ-BELTRÁN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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 NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.