Immigration bill falters as border communities deal with the flood of migrants
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Back here in the U.S., the Senate is set to take an initial vote today on a plan intended to cut down the number of unlawful crossings along the southern border. But former President Trump has been pushing Republicans to oppose the deal, and increasingly, many are. Some Democrats are now saying they don't support it either. And even if the bill can get through the Senate, which seems increasingly unlikely, House Speaker Mike Johnson has already called it dead on arrival in his chamber. Meanwhile, the House tried and failed to bring impeachment charges against Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. And while all that's happening in Washington, cities and towns along the border and beyond are still dealing with the flood of people making their way across.
Yesterday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors sent a letter to all 100 senators urging them to pass the measure. It was signed by a group of 139 mayors from both parties. One of them is the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., John Giles. And he is with us now to tell us more about why. Good morning, Mayor.
JOHN GILES: Good morning, Michel.
MARTIN: So, Mr. Mayor, could you just paint a picture for me? I mean, Mesa is about 180 miles north of the southern border. Could you just give us a sense of what it's been like over, say, the last year or so, as we've seen this number of migrants trying to cross surge?
GILES: Sure. Well, as you mentioned, Mesa's a couple of hours north of the border, but whenever the border is overwhelmed in either Tucson or Yuma or Nogales, we get the phone call that says that the faith groups and the city resources, the nonprofits in our city are going to be impacted because there's going to be street releases. Like I say, the very humble Spanish-speaking churches in my city take on buses at a time. It's gotten to the point now that the city has to be involved in order to rent motel rooms and then seek reimbursement from the federal government. It's quite a serious problem here.
MARTIN: As we said, you signed on to the letter that urges senators to pass this border security bill. Which aspects of the bill do you think would particularly help?
GILES: Well, it's a two-pronged approach. It does make some necessary changes. It closes some loopholes that are being used by the criminal cartels, having to do with asylum-seekers, raising the bar. The initial determination is better now. Sometimes asylum-seekers can wait up to 10 years to get a resolution of their claims. And most of the people that are coming across the border right now that are seeking asylum, they're actually economic refugees. And so that bar is raised. It also allows for additional resources. These people are now are - with this new legislation wouldn't be subject to immigration judges, would be a separate process opened up for them that, again, is going to expedite those claims rather than catch and release, where people come into the United States and wait sometimes years for a determination on their asylum claims. That will all take place now in a matter of days. So it's a lot more efficient, a lot more humane and targets, really, these loopholes that criminals are using to take advantage of these people.
MARTIN: Now, look, I know that you're the chair of the Conference of Mayors Immigration Task Force, so you are really immersed in these issues. But I still want to ask if it was a hard decision to sign the letter, given that former President Trump, who is, you know, essentially the leader of the party, telling Republicans to oppose the bill even before it was delivered, actually. So was it a hard decision for you?
GILES: It was very easy. This is a serious problem, not just in border state cities, but throughout the country. You're seeing large Northeastern Democratic-led cities now that are very much impacted by this. This is an issue that transcends partisan politics. And so I think mayors are easy to make the determination that - when you have a - confronted with a choice between party and country, country always wins.
MARTIN: But, you know, Republicans in Congress have fought hard to get the type of concessions that are actually included in this proposal, and now they're walking away from it. Like, what do you make of that?
GILES: Well, it's partisan politics. Like I said, I hope that the Republicans, my fellow Republicans in Congress, particularly in the House, will have a spine and that they'll realize that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have a very meaningful impact on a very serious challenge in our country, and they need to rise to that occasion.
MARTIN: Well, their argument is it doesn't go far enough, that it actually won't make a difference. You just disagree with them on the merits.
GILES: Well, they're correct. It doesn't go far enough because this is a compromise. Over the course of many months, you know, we had Republicans and Democrats and independents negotiating the terms of this deal. So is it a perfect deal? Absolutely not. But you're not going to get something ever that's perfect coming out of Congress. And for decades now, this issue has been ignored, and it's festered, and it's gotten worse and worse.
MARTIN: As briefly as you can, if this bill is really dead as the headlines suggest, what do you do?
GILES: Well, continue to respond when the federal government and when our border cities ask us to be part of the solution. But this is getting to the point that it is not sustainable. And you're seeing that not just again in border cities, but you're seeing it throughout the United States. So this is going to break very soon.
MARTIN: That is John Giles. He's the mayor of Mesa, Ariz. He signed this letter, as we just told you, urging senators to pass this border security bill. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for talking to us.
GILES: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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