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What Migrants And Government Officials Have To Say About The Southern Border

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We want to follow up now with David Greene, our Morning Edition host. He's been reporting on the surge of migrants. And David, we just heard from Ambassador Canjura of El Salvador. And I understand that you've spent time there on the border with families from El Salvador. What are you hearing from them?

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Yeah, we spent a lot of yesterday, Audie, with families. We found this volunteer group here in El Paso. They took in about 50 migrants yesterday. They were holding them at a hotel where they had gotten some rooms. These are families who spent a few nights behind barbed wire underneath that bridge we heard so much about. And border authorities have moved everyone out of there now.

But our producer Kevin Tidmarsh was in the room with one woman from El Salvador. And she was recounting her story to volunteers. She said she felt real threats of violence at home from gangs, and so she made this trip through Mexico with her 6-month-old baby. She was paying for the most basic needs along the way. I mean, she said $23 for a blanket to keep her baby warm. She had got to the United States. She was in the custody of border control. She said she and her baby spent a few cold nights underneath that bridge, sleeping on the ground. And authorities processed her, gave her a court date. And then she was brought to this motel where this woman, Audie, said that she received shoes to wear for the very first time in days.

CORNISH: What's a family like that do next?

GREENE: Well, you know, they have - this family has family members in Maryland who are paying for their transportation to get to Maryland from Texas. And then from there, she'll have a court date scheduled. She can claim asylum, but, you know, it's uncertain. I mean, an asylum claim can certainly be denied. She could be deported.

And this process she's going through - it sounds common based on what we're hearing. I mean, Border Patrol is so overwhelmed right now with the numbers. They've removed ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from the process in some cases altogether. They're just releasing families to these shelter organizations. These organizations are helping them as quickly as possible to get to bus stations, to get to airports so they can make it to family in United States.

CORNISH: You're reporting on this story from the ground up. When you talk to immigration advocates and government officials, what are the reasons they keep giving for why the number of migrants is going up?

GREENE: Well, you know, immigration advocates - they want to stress this is all about people wanting a better life or escaping danger. But U.S. officials - I mean, they say these vast smuggling networks are playing a real role here. They've gotten really sophisticated. They see the U.S. government as overwhelmed. They sense opportunity. They can sell their services to families in Central America. I mean, I was sitting down today with Jack Staton. He's the special agent in charge of investigation for ICE in the El Paso sector. He said the smugglers are using social media. Here he is.

JACK STATON: Anybody can use social media. And if you look at it, you can see that Immigration Customs Enforcement is releasing individuals. I saw it on different news channels. They're talking about that on a regular basis. So that is also a pull factor.

GREENE: So, Audie, I mean, just to step back, I mean, he's been doing this kind of work for 24 years. And he was echoing what we've heard from other U.S. officials who say they are overwhelmed right now. And they think that these numbers for a variety of reasons might just keep going up from here.

CORNISH: And we can hear more of that interview and others tomorrow on Morning Edition, right?

GREENE: Yeah. We're going to have more from that interview with the special agent and also hear from some of the families who have crossed the border. So stay tuned.

CORNISH: That's NPR's David Greene speaking to us from El Paso. David, thank you.

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


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