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Arizona GOP Rep. Ciscomani criticizes Biden's efforts at the southern border

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: We have a critique this morning of President Biden's action toward people crossing the border. This is one of several moves he's making on immigration, a new rule for new arrivals first issued earlier this month. Soon after it came out, our correspondent Jasmine Garsd traced the arrival of more asylum-seekers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: As I drove along the border wall, I spotted a woman walking on the side of the road.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is America?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is America. You have made it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, God. Thank you, God.

INSKEEP: The new arrivals seem not to realize how quickly they may be sent away. As long as the number of migrants remains high, the U.S. is assigning them all to expedited removal, meaning asylum-seekers might have to leave within days. The president made this move after Congress failed to act on border issues and before an election where immigration is a big issue. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, saying Biden's plan is too harsh. Today, a lawmaker says it doesn't go far enough. Juan Ciscomani is a Republican member of Congress from Arizona.

JUAN CISCOMANI: Now, listen. I'm always going to take any kind of win that we can, especially in this area. I'm not going to let perfect be the enemy of good, but this isn't even good by any standard.

INSKEEP: Ciscomani is an immigrant himself and represents a border state. He's also a first-term congressman facing reelection in a swing district. He blames Biden for stopping some of President Trump's immigration policies.

CISCOMANI: And he doesn't take any kind of action for, actually, 2 1/2 years, three years almost.

INSKEEP: The Republican lawmaker contends that Biden's crackdown has too many exceptions. Unaccompanied minors, for example, can stay in the U.S. longer.

CISCOMANI: That's basically writing the business plan for the cartels. That becomes the prime group of people that you actually want to be smuggling in because they don't count towards that threshold. If this was working, I would be happy to acknowledge that, and living on the border, we want to take any win that we can, but it's just not the case.

INSKEEP: The Department of Homeland Security asserts they've taken numerous actions over the past couple of years and that in the last year, May to May, the U.S. has deported more than 750,000 people, which they say is the highest number in more than a decade. Would you take that as at least some evidence of good faith by the administration, even if you don't agree with the way they're doing it?

CISCOMANI: Well, it's really not about agreement, if I agree with the way they're doing it or not. This is one of those things that if what they're doing is working, I'm happy to acknowledge it.

INSKEEP: Well, they are deporting people. I guess that's the point.

CISCOMANI: Well, I mean, some people, but look at the numbers of people that are coming in. We're up in the millions. You can't call that a success, that they have the highest number of deportations, but we also have quadruple the number of entries.

INSKEEP: We interviewed Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, who acknowledged they're not doing everything they would like to do, but this is the reason he says that is. Let's listen.

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ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: It is our responsibility to deliver for the American people when Congress fails to do so. The executive action that the president has taken is no substitute for legislation, but we will do whatever we can within our legal authorities.

INSKEEP: What is Congress willing to do?

CISCOMANI: This is the typical Mayorkas approach - point the finger and pass the buck on somebody else. This situation - this crisis - was created under his watch.

INSKEEP: From Trump to Biden, he says, the law has not changed. Administration policies did change, and Ciscomani wants the Trump policy back, including Remain in Mexico, a program that told asylum-seekers to wait outside the U.S.

CISCOMANI: That not only deals with the actual entry into the country, but it deals with the international responsibility on other countries to also be a player in stopping and mitigating the flow of people into our southern border.

INSKEEP: This points to an essential problem - once asylum-seekers reach U.S. soil, the law says the U.S. is supposed to hear their claims, and that sometimes takes years. There are not enough facilities to detain them all, so the U.S. releases many until their court hearings. Ciscomani raises another possibility.

CISCOMANI: They should be returned.

INSKEEP: Just send them back across the border.

CISCOMANI: If they don't have the proper qualifications under which they're claiming to be here for - in this case would be asylum - then they have to find a good reason to be here.

INSKEEP: I think we've talked about this before. There's a problem with just sending people back, because so many of them didn't come from Mexico. They came from China. They came from India. They came from all over the world, and a lot of times, it's not easy to get them back, or their countries won't take them back. Don't you ultimately end up with a problem where you're either detaining them or releasing them into the United States until they get a court hearing?

CISCOMANI: Well, that's why the partnership with these countries that we have relationships with are so important, including Mexico. Mexico's our No. 1 trading partner. We've been partners in so many ways in so many areas for so many years that this is another one that we have to do. Mexico did take the Remain in Mexico policy.

INSKEEP: At one time, yes.

CISCOMANI: They agreed to it under President Trump. Why wouldn't they agree to it now, under Biden?

INSKEEP: Juan Ciscomani, a Republican member of Congress from Arizona. Like Trump and Biden, he is on the ballot this year in an election where immigration is a big issue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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