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How Trump's Reversal On Family Separation Is Changing Activity Along The Border


As we continue to track the fallout from the Trump administration's now-rescinded family separation policy, it's worth remembering what the original point of the policy was - deterrence, stopping people from trying to cross into America illegally. Here's how White House chief of staff John Kelly put it in an interview with NPR's John Burnett back in May.


JOHN KELLY: A big name of the game is deterrence. If they're...

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: And so family separation stands as a pretty tough deterrent.

J. KELLY: Could be a tough deterrent, would be a tough deterrent.

M. KELLY: But did it actually deter people? Do the people contemplating coming to America even know about the latest twists and turns of U.S. immigration policy? Maureen Meyer directs the Mexico Program for the Washington Office on Latin America. That is a human rights advocacy and research organization. And she has spent the last few days on the Arizona border. She joins me now on the line from Tucson. Maureen Meyer, welcome.


M. KELLY: Describe for me just what it looks like this week. What is the situation there?

MEYER: I will say that when we were there yesterday morning, there were about 20 asylum-seekers camped out next to the gate to enter into the United States, waiting for CBP officers to tell them when they could come.

M. KELLY: CBP - Customs and Border Patrol.

MEYER: There were two families both with several small children and several unaccompanied minors from Guatemala. They had been in Nogales for more than a week and had to spend at least the last two nights waiting at the port to see when they would have a turn.

M. KELLY: And did things seem to be flowing smoothly?

MEYER: I think it's been very frustrating for everyone because it has not been a smooth process. There were days when the officers were not accepting anybody for asylum. They have been saying it's a space and capacity issue. But for families that have taken long journeys or for these Guatemalan children that have spent more than a month on the journey, it's been a very frustrating process and waiting game because of all the uncertainty. And we're getting longer and longer backlogs. Last week in Nogales, it may have been a wait time - three, four or five days. Now it's getting up to 12 days.

M. KELLY: As you speak to people lined up at the border, are they aware of the family separation policy that was in effect until Wednesday?

MEYER: I think people at the border - yes, they were because in a sense they've been lucky. There is a very strong network of organizations, both U.S. and Mexican-based, that have been educating potential asylum-seekers about what's happening in the United States but likely did not know that until they came to the border. And I think that most people fleeing their homes, particularly Central America, are not focusing on what changes are happening in U.S. policy. What - their decision to leave is because it's become for most of them a decision of life and death and the thought that, I need to leave, and that need is greater than any fear I might have of what might happen to me at the border, including having my children separated from me.

M. KELLY: Obviously people are coming to the border, trying to cross for different reasons. As you look at people who are economic migrants, people who are crossing and trying to get work - seasonal work or otherwise - in the U.S., are you able to gauge whether zero tolerance policy is having any impact on their decision-making, on whether they are going to continue coming through in the same numbers?

MEYER: I think what we've seen since the beginning of the Trump administration is that some people that can afford to wait sometimes wait a few months to see, you know, how much changes in U.S. policy might impact what really happens on the ground. So we saw that significant drop in border crossings the first few months of the Trump administration. I think, though, a lot of people still feel that need to come back to the United States. Even if someone is coming for economic reasons, a lot of them also are coming for family reasons. They have U.S.-born children. They consider the United States a home. And they are hoping to try to come back and stay.

M. KELLY: You've been traveling both sides of the border. What have you been able to observe in recent days about how Trump's immigration policy is playing out on the Mexican side?

MEYER: I think one thing we have seen is certainly Mexicans continue to be returned to Mexico, whether they are Mexicans that have been apprehended in the interior that have spent decades here or recent border crossers. One story that really struck me was - we were able to speak with two Mexican women who had crossed through the California border about a month ago, were processed and sent to detention and were then put on a bus and deported to a different part of the border without their husbands. So these were women traveling with their husbands and are now back in Mexico in a different part of the border that they don't know, and they don't know where their husbands are.

M. KELLY: So what's your takeaway from what you've been seeing these past few days?

MEYER: That there are people that continue to come. And even those that really want to do what the - going through the ports of entry are seeing lots of obstacles and a real sense of vulnerability of a population that has gone through abuse in their home country, probably went through a very dangerous journey to Mexico and just the real need people feel and still continue to feel that the United States is a place that could offer them protection.

M. KELLY: That's Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group. Maureen Meyer, thanks for your time.

MEYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.