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One of leading issues for many voters this year is immigration

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

One of the leading issues for many voters this year is immigration. So we have some debate prep. We look at the issue as President Biden prepares to debate former President Trump this week.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is not debate prep for the candidates. They're doing their own. It's prep for us, the voters, who will try to make sense of what they're saying.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, we did this series of reports called We, The Voters. And you, Steve, focused on immigration this past spring.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And let's hear a bit of one story that illustrates a basic issue at the Arizona border. A couple of months ago, we met two asylum-seekers, Carla and Jose, from Venezuela. And I asked what they did when they crossed the border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CARLA: (Speaking Spanish).

INSKEEP: Carla said, "we gave thanks to God for the opportunity."

You're taking some papers out of a bag here.

Jose handed me documents from the Federal Immigration Service.

These are your signatures here?

CARLA: Si.

INSKEEP: OK.

The papers said the family has a court date in 3 1/2 years.

MARTÍNEZ: Three and a half years, which I've heard is the normal wait time.

INSKEEP: Yeah. It's an issue. People arrive, and they can stay a long time before they have to prove a claim for asylum. The numbers of people crossing this way have massively increased during President Biden's time in office, which is on the mind of Muzaffar Chishti, an immigration specialist we heard from in the series.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: I mean, that's sort of why many people think that the border crisis is actually an asylum crisis, that just invoking the word asylum then lets you enter the U.S.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Steve, Congress discussed changes early this year. Would that bill have changed the dynamics at all?

INSKEEP: Well, it would have sped up court judgments so people would be deported more quickly. And the idea was to give them less incentive to come in the first place. Former President Trump, though, urged Republicans in Congress to block that. He was campaigning on the issue - said he wanted something else. And when we interviewed Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary for President Biden, he criticized a Republican lawmaker for that bill's failure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: The bipartisan legislation would have eliminated the yearslong process between encounter and final adjudication and our ability to remove that individual. And I would respectfully wish that the congressman had actually supported that bipartisan legislation rather than opposed it.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So now we know the backdrop. This is how President Biden came to act on his own. When border crossings increase, almost everybody gets expedited removal. They no longer get to wait years.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And our immigration correspondent, Jasmine Garsd, is at the California-Mexico border right now and looking at the effect of this. Hey there, Jas.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us. I know it's very early where you are. Are people already being returned?

GARSD: Yeah. So we don't have Customs and Border Protection numbers measuring the impact of the restrictions yet. But the agency has said they've more than doubled expedited removals. Now, one of our colleagues has spent time on the Mexican side of the border in towns where he witnessed an overflow of migrants at shelters who were sent back. So, yes, definitely the executive action is making waves.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's in the last couple of weeks. But what's been happening to the overall numbers of people crossing the border throughout this year?

GARSD: So the number of undocumented migrant crossings - it's been going down, actually, for the last couple of months. You know, there were a series of meetings between the U.S. and Mexico last year. And Mexico really ramped up its enforcement of migrants who are traveling north to the U.S., and that's something that's really been felt. I can tell you right now I'm at the border. And the shift - it's really notable. There's areas where I used to run into hundreds of asylum-seekers, and now it's almost empty. I mean, you still see bottles of water and clothing and shoes and tents, but it's all empty. There - it's almost creepy.

INSKEEP: OK. But people are still crossing in some places. Does this overall mean that Biden's approach is working?

GARSD: I think there's a lot more to this story. Historically, these crackdowns on the border - they work for a few weeks. They work for a few months. And then it picks right back up. And most immigration experts will tell you deterrence alone doesn't work, not when the conditions that people are fleeing remain in place.

And I've been talking to locals. I've been talking to humanitarian aid groups out here who have told me they've seen these kinds of policies for decades over and over again. And they always result in migrants being pushed to cross the border through far more dangerous and deadly areas, but they still cross. And everyone out here has told me that's what they're expecting to see - a short-lived effect.

MARTÍNEZ: Steve, we've been talking about new arrivals, but both candidates are talking about people already here without a legal status.

INSKEEP: Yeah. That's true. Biden took an action regarding some of them last week. What was it, Jasmine?

GARSD: It's for people without documents who have married U.S. citizens, and they would be protected from deportation. They'd receive a work authorization as they applied for permanent legal status, and it would apply to about half a million people.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, Donald Trump - he's taking a different approach to the 11 million people already here.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah. Mass deportation is what he's repeated at one campaign stop after another. His former aide in the White House, Stephen Miller, has also talked of rounding up people and putting them into camps while awaiting departure by plane. This is from a podcast where Miller spoke with the activist Charlie Kirk.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE CHARLIE KIRK SHOW")

STEPHEN MILLER: So you create this efficiency by having these standing facilities where planes are moving off the runway constantly, probably military aircraft, some existing DHS assets. And in terms of personnel, you go to the red-state governors, and you say, give us your National Guard. We will deputize them as immigration enforcement officers.

INSKEEP: Miller was talking there of sending red-state National Guard troops into blue states if they should resist.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So aside from the practical and legal questions there, I mean, what are the politics of that?

INSKEEP: Well, it's tricky. Surveys do show that majorities of voters favor deporting people who are here illegally. But in my own interviews, I've encountered Trump voters who were surprised by the idea of a mass deportation and didn't like it. And Trump himself talked about generating political resistance in a Fox News interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

DONALD TRUMP: So you'll get rid of 10 really bad ones and one, you know, beautiful mother, who they think is guilty of something. And maybe she is - maybe. And it'll become a story or a family that's a good family and came in wrong. And, you know, they're going to show it. Then it's going to always be tough. It's not going to be easy.

INSKEEP: That's former President Trump. We also heard reporting from NPR's Jasmine Garsd and many other voices as we get debate prep - the backdrop of a big issue so you can follow what the candidates say on Thursday night. President Biden meets former President Trump on CNN. They have agreed to a second debate on ABC in September. The candidates did not agree to the traditional three debates this fall sponsored by an independent commission, and we have an update there.

MARTÍNEZ: In May, after Biden's team said he would not participate in the fall, the commission head told us he'd keep trying. This week, the commission acknowledged the odds. It told the universities that host the debates that they no longer need to make plans. 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.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.