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President Trump Defends U.S. Actions At U.S.-Mexico Border


President Trump is defending the actions of U.S. officials at the U.S.-Mexico border. On Sunday, Customs and Border Patrol closed the U.S. border against Central American migrants who were trying to get across the border illegally. And at one point, officers used tear gas against the crowd. Here's the president.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They had to use because they were being rushed by some very tough people, and they used tear gas. And here's the bottom line - nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally.

MARTIN: The president also threatened in a tweet that if Mexico doesn't move the migrants away from the U.S. border, he will shut down the border permanently. The Trump administration also wants to change U.S. asylum policy, and instead of allowing people to wait in the U.S. until their claim is decided, the president wants them to be returned to Mexico. Theresa Cardinal Brown served as a policy adviser with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Department of Homeland Security, and this morning, she's in our studios. Thanks for coming in.


MARTIN: So the president often speaks in generalities, big sweeping statements, so we're going to try to parse some of this to understand the implications. First off, his proposal to change the asylum policy to require applicants to wait in Mexico - can you explain what happens now?

BROWN: Well, this is a policy that he's trying to negotiate with Mexico. So there is a provision in our law that says that if somebody is in deportation proceedings but has arrived at the land border from contiguous territory, the United States can make them wait in that contiguous territory for their case to be heard. Right now, those people are being allowed into the country. And because we don't have detention facilities, they're being released, so that's what he calls catch and release. But we can't really exercise this authority in law without the cooperation of Mexico because Mexico doesn't have to allow non-Mexicans back. So that's what we understand is going on is that the administration is negotiating with Mexico to allow this to happen.

MARTIN: So it would be legal, but it puts a big burden on Mexico, does it not? I mean, what's their responsibility to these people?

BROWN: Well, whether or not it's legal I think is a little bit debatable. This provision has never been used before because we've never had an agreement. And there is some questions and people question whether or not it can be used with asylum-seekers specifically, so I would imagine there'll be litigation over that. But with regards to Mexico, Mexico is already dealing with the migrants there - I mean, approximately 9,000 in Tijuana now. There were already 3,000 to 4,000 migrants waiting to apply for asylum in Tijuana before the current caravan arrived. So Mexico is trying its best to manage this situation. It has offered asylum to many of them who wish to apply in Mexico, as well as other work permits. The Mexican government is trying to maintain order with this group of people. So you see the Mexican Federal Police, for example, are now trying to ensure that there's not an incident like yesterday keeping people from approaching the border to, you know, go illegally through.

MARTIN: Is it your understanding that the people in the images that we saw of people trying to scale the fence or the people who were getting tear gassed, have they applied for asylum? Are these people...

BROWN: They have not.

MARTIN: They have not.

BROWN: They have not. So what happens is in order to apply for asylum, you have to enter the United States. If you're coming at a port of entry, you have to come to the port of entry and make your application there.

MARTIN: But they're physically barred from going to a port of entry.

BROWN: They're physically barred from doing so. CBP says that it's a capacity issue at the San Ysidro port of entry. San Ysidro is the busiest border crossing in the world. And in order for them to process the regular traffic pedestrians and people coming in to work and to shop and for every other business that they're doing, they can only process, according to them, a few hundred, if that, cases of asylum a day just because of their resources. So, basically, they have prevented people from crossing the - you know, crossing into across the border into the processing facilities to make their asylum applications. They're so-called metering. They're metering people and allowing only so many in a day. So that's frustrating and creating a lot of people waiting in Tijuana. And that's why they were trying to sort of come across the border.

MARTIN: Just lastly, what would incentivize Mexico to agree to this deal?

BROWN: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, the president has talked a lot about shutting down the border. I assume that's a coercive tactic because shutting down the border would definitely impact the Mexican economy but also impact the U.S. economy. Even the three hours that it was shut down on Sunday had a detrimental impact in Tijuana and in San Diego.

MARTIN: All right. Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, thank you so much for your time.

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