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O’Rourke calls for the end of Title 42 but seeks ‘credible’ asylum claims

Mexican migrants are sent to Mexico City’s biggest bus stations after being expelled from the U.S. on July 10, 2020, days after crossing the border illegally. Mexico’s National Migration Institute pays for their bus tickets so the migrants can reach their final destination.
Antonio Cueto for Texas

Texas Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Beto O’Rourke made several campaign stops in the Rio Grande Valley this week where he continued to criticize both Gov. Greg Abbott and the Biden administration on their approach to the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Wednesday night, O’Rourke also echoed earlier remarks from this week on the issue, calling for “order and rule of law."

“I wouldn't do the kind of things you've been seeing where DPS troopers are marching immigrants onto private property,” O’Rourke told TPR in response to Gov. Abbott’s handling of the border over the last few months.

“They arrest them, and then put them in the Jim Hogg County jail, where those cells are filling up and the property tax payer is footing the bill,” explained O’Rourke.

Operation Lone Star, under which Abbott sought to “combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas,” launched in March. The operation opened up a collaboration between DPS and the Texas National Guard to “deploy assets to high threat areas” on the border.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott Is Running His Own Immigration Policy. Is It Legal?

O’Rourke has also criticized the Biden administration’s response to the asylum seekers and undocumented migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border during his campaign this week. On Wednesday night, O’Rourke said he would be concentrating on moving immigration policy forward.

“I would partner with those in Washington, D.C., whoever happens to be the president, whoever happens to be in Congress,” O’Rourke said. “I’d make sure that we rewrite our laws to match our needs, and our values, and to guarantee that anyone coming to this country crosses through a port of entry, and not in between the ports of entry. Let's end Title 42, which has caused many, many repeat crossing attempts at the Texas-Mexico border. Let's make sure that the line to gain citizenship or residency does not last 20 years, which is the case today, which is an incentive to cross in between ports of entry.”

RELATED: Human rights groups appeal to international panel to end Biden’s Title 42 migrant expulsions

The Department of Homeland Security and the Biden administration continue to cite U.S. Health Code Title 42 to both turn away and expel asylum-seeking migrants at the border. In September, DHS cited Title 42 in its immediate deportation of more than 7,000 asylum seekers to Haiti.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Border and Immigration News Desk, including the Catena Foundation and Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

“If somebody has a legitimate asylum claim, that should be processed right here in the United States,” said O’Rourke. “And if they do not, then unfortunately, that person cannot come into this country and must go back to their home country.”

While the Biden administration and the Department of Homeland security (DHS) have lifted some restrictions at the border over the past few weeks, asylum seekers continue to be turned away. Advocates have pointed to a system that in practice illegally expels those who seek asylum before DHS has time to determine the legitimacy of their claims.

RELATED: Asylum-seeking migrants continue to be turned away at the border — even though Biden ended federal 'metering' policy

Dani Marrero Hi, Director of Advocacy for La Union Del Pueblo Entero in the Rio Grande Valley, said that O’Rourke's language on the credibility of claims for asylum ignores this situation.

“The asylum system in the U.S. is so dysfunctional right now that people have virtually no options to apply for protection,” Marrero Hi told TPR Wednesday night. “Have we already forgotten about the horrific images that came out of Del Rio? Those photos show just one part of what people are experiencing right now at the border. So it's very awkward for Beto to be talking about how people are crossing or whether they have ‘credible’ asylum claims.”

However, O’Rourke said that he will be open to working with communities on the border to reach solutions on immigration issues.

“I'd come to the border and not for a photo opportunity, and not to scapegoat immigrants and not to rile people up by describing this as an invasion, or asking Texans to take matters into their own hands,” O’Rourke said. “Instead, I'd come to the border, and actually listen to the people who live and understand the U.S.-Mexico border experience. We've got to have order at our US Mexico border, and we have to have rule of law and where the laws do not work today, we've got to rewrite them and change them. And that change has to come from these border communities.”

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Pablo De La Rosa is a freelance journalist reporting statewide with Texas Public Radio and nationally with NPR from the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, from where he originates. He’s the host of the daily Spanish-language newscast TPR Noticias Al Día.