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Border and Immigration Update: VP Visits Mexico And Guatemala, Trying To Dissuade Border Crossers

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the media, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma in Mexico City.
Jacquelyn Martin
Associated Press
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the media, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma in Mexico City.

From a new migrant shelter in Houston to Vice President Kamala Harris' visit to Mexico and Guatemala, here’s a rundown of border and immigration news from Texas and beyond. Look out for a weekly recap featuring reporting from NPR and Texas’ public radio stations.

Alleged Houston Migrant Smuggling Victims Detained, Deported Despite Visa Eligibility

Nearly 100 migrants were rescued from captivity in another high-profile smuggling bust in April, in which prosecutors charged five people with harboring the alleged victims for personal financial gain.

Now, around half of those migrants have been deported or are otherwise being held in immigrant detention. And dozens are facing these legal challenges despite being eligible for a special visa for crime victims.

As Houston Public Media's Elizabeth Trovall reports, the incident provides a stark look at the consequences faced by immigrant victims of crime, and the lack of protections afforded to them when federal investigators become involved.

“One misconception that is very clearly stated in this particular case is that survivors are protected by law enforcement,” said Naiyolis Palomo, an advocate with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “And this particular case shows exactly why they're not.”

Two Years In, Mexico National Guard’s Role On The Border Remains Controversial

It’s been nearly two years since the first members of Mexico’s National Guard arrived in Juarez. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, under threat by former President Donald J. Trump to impose high tariffs on Mexican goods, deployed about 15,000 of Mexico’s newly formed National Guard to both of the country’s borders in the summer of 2019 amid a surge in migration from Central America. Read the full story from Houston Public Media.

The National Guard has both been touted as effective for border enforcement and criticized for using troops not trained for civilian duty. As KTEP’s Angela Kocherga reported this week, the future role of the National Guard remains a concern for human rights groups and a bargaining chip for the López Obrador administration. Read the full story from Texas Standard.

Houston’s New Short-Term Shelter Offers Respite To Migrant Families

A new short-term shelter in north Houston will provide migrants with a chance to sleep, eat a hot meal, and change clothes after their recent crossing into Texas from Mexico before reconnecting with family members elsewhere in the United States.

HPM’s Elizabeth Trovall reports that the facility — or “family transfer center” — has welcomed more than 220 people since opening last week and can accommodate as many as 500 migrants at a time.

It was created to support nonprofits that have been caring for the bulk of these families before they board buses to reunite with family members in other parts of the country.

“We have become an overflow for the NGOs or the respite centers along the border,” said Elder Carlos Villareal, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “When they receive a large surge and are unable to assist all of them, they will send them here.” Read the full story from Houston Public Media.

Kamala Harris Made Her First Visit To Mexico And Guatemala, Tells Guatemalans "Do Not Come" To The United States

Vice President Kamala Harris made the first foreign trip of her VP career this week to Mexico and Guatemala to highlight the root causes of migration. The visit comes at a time when record numbers of people have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. Most are from Central America.

"I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come," said Harris in a press conference Monday, held after she visited with Guatemala's president. Harris met with Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as well.

So, overall, how did it all go? Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Antonio Garza, told Texas Standard Harris’ visits should help reinforce the Biden administration’s immigration strategy – one that’s more open than that of the Trump administration, but also bent on deterring migration as much as possible. But, as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, Harris' first foreign visit wasn't entirely smooth. The Vice President was also pressed as to why she didn't visit the U.S.-Mexico border during the trip.

For a bigger-picture look at near-term policy options addressing migration, plus ideas for how the U.S. could improve conditions in the countries migrants are fleeing, check out this episode of Think from earlier this year.

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Copyright 2021 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Rachel Osier Lindley is a Senior Editor for The Texas Newsroom, a public radio journalism collaboration between KERA in North Texas, KUT in Austin, Houston Public Media, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and NPR.