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Biden's former director of border management reacts to end of Title 42

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's turn now to events unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border and whether the Biden administration has done enough to prepare for them. Title 42 ends this week. That's the pandemic border policy started under President Trump. It has continued under President Biden. With it now expiring, migrants who've been waiting in Mexico for a chance to seek asylum are expected to try to cross. Fifteen-hundred U.S. troops have been sent to meet them and to send a message the border is not open. I want to bring in Andrea Flores. She was director of border management on the National Security Council under President Biden. Welcome.

ANDREA FLORES: Thank you for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So let's start with these active-duty troops at the border, which I gather you are not a fan of. I saw that you tweeted, and I will quote, "deploying military personnel suggests a concerning lack of readiness for this transition. DHS," - the Department of Homeland Security - "had over two years to plan a gradual wind-down of Title 42. Instead, the situation has escalated into a greater emergency," end quote. Andrea Flores, explain. A greater emergency, why?

FLORES: Sure. So anyone who works in border policy, migration policy knows that sudden changes to our immigration policies at the border can trigger the movement of people in really extreme ways. And so what I mean by that is Title 42 was always a temporary authority. It was justified by public health reasons. The Biden administration, from day one, we knew that Title 42 was going to come to an end and that it was going to be a difficult operational transition to restore the normal border processing that we've always had. So what I am concerned about is you see, you know, the announcement that troops are being deployed. You are seeing thousands of people already on the streets of communities like El Paso. You're hearing from shelter providers that they haven't been engaged on what this transition will look like until a few weeks ago. So I'm concerned that with all of this lead time, that this is becoming a far greater emergency than it ever needed to be. And that has really negative impacts on the migrants themselves who are going through this process, on border communities, on law enforcement and also just on our national debate on immigration, which is already very heated and really difficult for people to understand where we are in this moment.

KELLY: So on the troops, specifically, help me understand. They're there apparently to help with logistics, maybe help free up the Border Patrol to do other things. Is there actual harm from sending them if we are seeing, as you say, already thousands of people on the streets? You know, doesn't the U.S. need to send more people to help?

FLORES: I would say do we need active-duty troops? - not necessarily. I would recommend deploying more humanitarian personnel on the ground. So I could imagine FEMA, the Red Cross, additional humanitarian organizations. One of the issues with a very long history of administration sending military troops is there's politics in that decision, right? And there's an imagery of the border as a dangerous space, that migrants are dangerous, that they need to be intimidated away from coming and seeking relief such as asylum. And so I get really nervous whenever I hear that troops are in border communities because it's very unlikely that they won't be interacting with migrants. It's very unlikely that they won't be interacting with U.S. citizens in those communities. I grew up along the border. I have seen and experienced when troops have been deployed, and I think it's a really startling thing for people in border communities to see.

KELLY: When you say you're worried that this has become or is becoming an emergency that it didn't need to be, I mean, what would you have liked to see the Biden administration do to handle this?

FLORES: I would have liked to see them phase out Title 42 far earlier. To not see them formally try and end it till long after we had testing, vaccines and other mechanisms in place to deal with the public health concerns, they really lost some time to build out a more orderly process for the people who have been waiting for two, three years to come and work, reunite with family or seek asylum.

KELLY: So what are you watching for in these coming days as Title 42 expires? What is the best-case scenario? What is the worst-case scenario?

FLORES: I think the best-case scenario is that they've prepared in a way that will reduce burdens on the communities receiving migrants. So that could mean that they've thought through how to facilitate the transportation of people to different locations, that everyone is leaving Border Patrol custody with a court document, or they're on an alternative to detention. That is a sign of the system doing well. What I am very nervous about, though, is - and, you know, we don't know everything about what happened in Brownsville yesterday.

KELLY: Brownsville - this is when the vehicle struck and killed people near a migrant shelter in Brownsville, Texas. Go on.

FLORES: But when you have people gathered outdoors, on the streets, I think that creates really serious safety risks, not only for the migrants themselves but for communities. And I'm very nervous that we will continue to see and have people who are unhoused with nowhere to go - right? - in these border communities. And in our current political climate, I get really nervous about the security risk that that creates for, really, everyone.

KELLY: Andrea Flores has held senior posts to do with immigration, both for Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, and on the Biden National Security Council. Thanks very much.

FLORES: Thank you again for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.