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Trump Heads To U.S.-Mexico Border, Days After Kamala Harris Trip

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Former President Trump is set to visit the U.S.-Mexico border this week, just days after Vice President Kamala Harris made her own visit to Texas. Both trips come at a time when many Republicans are describing the situation at the border as a, quote, "crisis," with unauthorized crossings at their highest level in decades.

NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and joins us now. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: What do we know about Trump's upcoming visit?

ROSE: Well, he's expected to visit the Rio Grande Valley in Texas on Wednesday, along with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and a group of congressional Republicans. And they're essentially trolling the Biden administration by highlighting the high number of border crossings this year. Here is some of what Trump said last night at a rally in Ohio.

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DONALD TRUMP: Illegal aliens are overrunning their borders. Nobody's ever seen anything like it. Our poor borders, they were so perfect. They were so good.

ROSE: The rhetoric from that rally should sound very familiar to anyone who's followed former President Trump and the way he often talks about immigrants as a threat and a burden. He's still very much on that message.

MCCAMMON: It does sound familiar. We mentioned Vice President Harris was at the border, too. What did she have to say?

ROSE: Right. Harris visited El Paso on Friday. It was her first trip to the border since President Biden named her to lead the administration's effort to stem migration from Central America. And she met with immigration officials in El Paso, also with immigrant advocates there. Here is some of what she had to say afterwards to reporters.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The work that we have to do is the work of addressing the cause, the root causes. Otherwise, we'll continue to see the effect, what is happening at the border.

ROSE: Harris has gotten some criticism for not coming to the border sooner. She said that this trip builds on her earlier visit to Central America, where she's trying to deal with those root causes.

MCCAMMON: As we mentioned, Republicans have been framing the situation at the border as a crisis. What is your read of the situation?

ROSE: It's true that border crossings are up since Biden and Harris took office. Immigration authorities are encountering more migrants in recent months than they have at any time since 2001. And Republicans are quick to blame the Biden administration for relaxing some of Trump's restrictive immigration policies.

But the reality is that the border is not open, as some of the administration's critics claim. The Biden administration is quickly expelling a majority of migrants under a public health order that's been in place now since the beginning of the pandemic. And many of the adult migrants who are being expelled are just quickly turning around and crossing the border again. Immigration advocates say that's making the numbers look bigger than they really are. Also, the number of families and migrant children arriving at the border has actually been declining somewhat in recent months. The numbers are still high, but not historically high necessarily.

MCCAMMON: So some people are essentially being counted more than once.

ROSE: For sure - as much as a third of the migrants, according to immigration authorities.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, the governors of Texas and Arizona say they are taking matters into their own hands. What is their plan?

ROSE: Well, they put out a call for assistance, and fellow Republican governors in states like Florida and Nebraska and Iowa have obliged by sending law enforcement officers to help. But it's not clear exactly what they're going to be doing at the border, and immigrant advocates say that this is mostly theater. They argue there's no evidence that increased migration is driving up violent crime at the border.

And at the same time, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he wants to complete construction of the border wall that the Biden administration has said it will no longer build out. But again, there are a lot of questions about this. Where the money would come from is a big one, also whether Texas can even get the land to build on. Landowners in the state have been fighting the federal government over that for years.

MCCAMMON: And aside from Vice President Harris's visit to the border, what steps is the Biden administration taking to address the situation?

ROSE: The administration is focused on what the president has called building a more humane and orderly immigration system. The Biden administration this week replaced the head of the Border Patrol, who had been a pretty outspoken supporter of President Trump and his hard-line policies. And it's taking steps to rebuild the asylum system that was dramatically curtailed under the Trump administration. In general, I would say the Biden team is trying to build more legal pathways for migrants to reach the U.S., they say, so that those migrants don't feel like they have no choice but to make these dangerous and illegal journeys to get across the border.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks so much, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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