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Biden Policies Are A Green Light For Asylum-Seekers, Rep. Gimenez Says

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Along the U.S. border with Mexico, federal agents are struggling to handle a record influx of migrants, and the Biden administration is facing bipartisan criticism for its handling of the surge. A large number of unaccompanied minors are being allowed in and are being held in overflowing temporary detention facilities. Now, Republicans in Congress are sharply critical of what they now call the Biden border crisis, but it's unclear what they offer as solutions. Joining us now is Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez. He was part of a group of Republicans who visited the border yesterday. Congressman, good morning.

CARLOS GIMENEZ: Good morning. How are you?

MARTINEZ: Good, good. Paint the picture for us. What did you see along the border?

GIMENEZ: Well, I saw a massive influx of new migrants coming across the border. The Border Patrol agents estimated about 100,000 came in in February alone. I saw hundreds of children being held at a Customs and Border Patrol facility. Many of them - you know, between the ages of 5 and I guess 17, very young - come here alone, unaccompanied. And, you know, it's going to be - this is just the beginning of what many Customs and Border Patrol agents think is going to be a flood of migrants coming across the border. And so it's very troubling. I think that the policies that the Biden administration has articulated now is giving a green light for migrants to try to, you know, make this crossing. And it's pretty dangerous for them to do so. And it's also - you know, it's a profit center for...

MARTINEZ: Congressmen, how are they a green light? How are those policies a green light?

GIMENEZ: Well, because when you say that, you know, don't come now but come, when you do catch and release, when you stop the policies that you had and agreements that you had with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras and other countries to return these migrants back to their countries, when the asylum-seekers were being held in Mexico instead of coming into the United States, that's kind of a green card, and I'll tell you why. When somebody who's seeking asylum actually crosses into the United States and then is not returned back to Mexico, in the United States, since the asylum hearing does take some years, those folks are now allowed to go into the country, and then they establish some kind of a life. Many of them - the majority actually do come back for their hearing, but 90% of those that come back for their hearing are denied the asylum. Then the judge says, well, I'll give you a certain amount of time to finish out your affairs here in the United States, and that's when most of them never show up. So 99% of those never show up again. If you had them over in Mexico, once they had their asylum hearing and 90% are denied asylum, then they're returned back to their country. That's the difference.

MARTINEZ: But what are the chances - what are the chances...

GIMENEZ: That's the difference.

MARTINEZ: When they're in Mexico, what are the chances that they can actually come back for their hearing?

GIMENEZ: No, they do come back for their hearing. So they have - they're waiting in Mexico. The former policy - come back for your asylum hearing - you would have your asylum hearing. But instead of being here in the United States for two or three years, they would be in Mexico waiting. If they're allowed asylum, then they enter the country. But again, it's that - since 90% are denied here in the United States, it's that 99% of those that are denied - when they are allowed to finish their affairs in the United States, those are the ones that disappear. So that's a green light right there. This catch and release now is part of the new policy, and so, again, that's a green light too. And look, this is not just, you know, dangerous for us because, you know, our Customs and Border Patrol agents are saying that not only are they seeing people from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, et cetera, coming in, but they're also seeing people from Iran. They have - a lot of Chinese nationals are coming in, which are paying $35,000 a head to be transported across the border. This is, again, a huge moneymaking operation for these traffickers. And then these traffickers also use this influx...

MARTINEZ: Congressman, OK, you mentioned that it's Joe Biden's policies that are at fault here, so what would you like to see President Biden do right now - now 55, 56 days into his administration - that would be a solution that you'd be OK with?

GIMENEZ: Well, number one - it's not a solution, but it would stop the flood - would be restore the Trump-era policies - no catch and release, have the migrants or have the...

MARTINEZ: But you know that wouldn't happen. You know that's not going to happen.

GIMENEZ: Well, that's what - you asked me what I would do. That's what I would do, OK? So, you know, if he won't do that...

MARTINEZ: But something that would actually...

GIMENEZ: If he wouldn't do that...

MARTINEZ: Yes. You have to also make...

GIMENEZ: If he wouldn't do that, OK, that's up to him, but the Trump-era policies were actually stopping the flow. Additional things need to happen. Number one, we need to add hundreds of new judges at the border to process these asylum requests and so that the new influx would be held until their asylum requests are - their hearings are actually, you know, conducted. If you had hundreds of more judges to do that, you don't have to release them into the United States. Ninety percent of those appeals are going to be denied because they're not seeking asylum. They're told what to do. They would be returned back to their country of origin, and the word would get out that, hey, unless you really have a good case for asylum, don't try it because you're just going to be deported back. Those are some of the things that we could do and do fairly quickly in order to stop this influx.

MARTINEZ: When it comes to the White House, they say they're working on solutions. And the solutions are at least being blamed in part - the situation, I would say - in part to the system set up by the Trump administration. You mentioned catch and release, also Migrant Protection Protocols, too, the remain in Mexico policy. Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the criticism, and she said that there really aren't a lot of options.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: The options here are send the kids back on the journey, send them to unvetted homes or work to expedite moving them into shelters where they can get health treatment by medical doctors, educational resources, legal counseling, mental health counseling. That's exactly what we're focused on doing.

MARTINEZ: When it comes to these kids, Congressman, what should the Biden administration be doing with the children?

GIMENEZ: Well, we need to find a way to disincentivize the families from sending their children, you know, here to begin with.

MARTINEZ: The ones that are here, though. The ones that are here now, though. What...

GIMENEZ: The ones that are here now - you have to take care of them. I mean, they're here, and you have to also ensure - we also need additional resources to ensure that the families or the - look. A lot of these kids come in with a number attached to them, some kind of a contact information. We have to make sure that those are either family members that will take care of them...

MARTINEZ: I'm sorry, Congressman, I got to leave it right there. That's Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez from Florida. Congressman, thank you very much.

GIMENEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.