The Call-In: Crossing The U.S.-Mexico Border
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And this is the Call In, our segment where you tell us what you are thinking. As you'll have noticed, Lulu Garcia-Navarro is away this week. That's because she's been reporting from Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border. Securing that border has been one of President Trump's signature agenda items. He reiterated the point during his first joint address to Congress this past week.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.
KELLY: We asked you to send us all your questions about the border, for landowner's, law enforcement, businesses, immigrants and, boy, did you send them.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hello, NPR.
DEE: My name is Dee (ph)...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I heard that Lulu was down here in south Texas and...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hi, I have a question.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I live down by El Paso.
DEE: And my question would be for the landowners.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Why will money be used to fund a border wall instead of infrastructure?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The parking lots were flooded with license plates from Juarez, Mexico.
DEE: So I would like to know what the local people feel about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Thanks.
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KELLY: We sent your questions to our own John Burnett and to Lulu.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hey.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: Where are you exactly on the border?
BURNETT: Well, we're actually standing on the levee south of Mission Texas. It overlooks the Rio Grande and Reynosa, Mexico, on the other side. It's called Anzalduas Park. Lots of Central Americans, unaccompanied kids, have come across here. And this is where the Texas Navy is. The troopers have gunboats down here on the Rio Grande. So it's a lively spot, Mary Louise.
KELLY: OK. And we heard from a lot of listeners, and I'm going to start with a question that we got from Zachary Milligran-Pate. He wrote to us on Facebook, and he wanted to know this - is there any data to suggest that the border wall, as it's been proposed, would actually make Americans safer? John, let me let you take that one.
BURNETT: OK. Last month, actually, the Government Accountability Office published a study, and it said that Customs and Border Protection - or CBP - doesn't officially know how much safer the border wall will make people who live behind it. They don't have the metrics, and they don't know how to separate out the border wall, for instance, from other defensive measures like lights and cameras and sensors. But if you ask the agents themselves, they'll tell you anecdotally that the fences are effective. These physical barriers funnel illegal crossers into gaps in the fence where they're easier to catch. But the question was, do they make residents safer? Crime statistics tell us the U.S. border cities are among the safest in the nation, with or without fencing.
KELLY: The safest in the nation. OK, another question that was about law enforcement along the border where you two are standing. We had a question from Bruce Sachs. He called, and he had a specific question for border patrol agents. Let's hear it.
BRUCE SACHS: What is their individual ideas on how to stop illegal immigration? And do they have any better ideas besides having laws and lots of border guards?
KELLY: And, Lulu, let me throw this one to you because I gather you, in your reporting down there this week, just had the chance to interview the chief patrol agent of the Rio Grande Valley sector, is that right?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. His name is Manny Padilla. And I think one of the first things people should know is that the border is highly militarized already. I think our friend here, John Burnett, counted how many different types of law enforcement there is here. It's seven kinds, right, John?
BURNETT: That's right, seven uniformed law enforcement, all the way from local police to National Guard.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. So the current head of the Border Patrol for Rio Grande Valley sector, Manny Padilla, which is the busiest in drugs and human smuggling on the border, said to me that what he needs more than anything are two things - infrastructure and technology. He has a lot of experience. He came from Arizona where he had success at cutting down a lot of the illegal traffic. And when he talks about infrastructure, he means the following - he says he needs roads to access some of the remote crossing areas, and when he talks about technology, he means that he needs things like aerostat. So these are, like, these big balloons that track people. They have cameras. They have sensors, and that is something that he feels they need more of.
KELLY: We got another question about border control. This one came in from Kevin Rakin. He's in Casa Grande, Ariz, so about an hour and a half away from the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's his question.
KEVIN RAKIN: Every day, you can probably find a patrol agent driving around or going into a shop here in town. So I would just like to very simply know what Border Patrol agents are doing so far away from the border.
KELLY: So how does this work? What are the jurisdictional challenges involved with all these different agencies on the border?
BURNETT: Under federal regulations, the Border Patrol can operate within a hundred miles of any external boundary of the U.S. And I looked at a map earlier, and Casa Grande looks like it's within a hundred miles of the border. Within that hundred miles, Border Patrol agents can put in checkpoints. They can pull over cars and question occupants about their immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. And that's where it gets controversial. The ACLU has called this hundred-mile zone a Constitution-free zone, and they constantly criticize agents for racial profiling and harassing Hispanics. Usually beyond these hundred miles, though, it's immigration customs enforcement, or ICE, who do most of the work.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I actually put this question to one of the Border Patrol agents that I was out on patrol with, and they said they need to have a hundred-mile radius because the border doesn't stop right at the border. They need to track drug shipments. They need to track possibly smuggling gangs. So they need that space, they said, to really be able to move their investigations forward.
KELLY: To follow on that, what is the difference between ICE and Border Patrol other than where they're allowed to operate?
BURNETT: The Border Patrol patrols the border and the zone close to the Border, and Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE, are responsible for deportations and for homeland security investigations, which are more in the interior of the country.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happens is when you're at the border and they see someone coming into the country illegally, the Border Patrol will take those people, will process them, and then they will hand them over to ICE.
KELLY: And here's another question.
KAREN VON BARGEN: My name's Karen von Bargen. I live in Oroville, Calif. And I was hoping that someone could explain to us the costs and the process of actually crossing the border legally.
KELLY: Lulu, take that one. What's the cost?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the cost is about $160 depending on what kind of visa you're applying for. Then, of course, if you need the help of a lawyer, it gets into the thousands of dollars.
BURNETT: And in terms of how long it takes, I mean, there's 185 different kinds of visas.
KELLY: Wow, OK.
BURNETT: A tremendous variety, and so if you just want to cross to do some shopping in a Texas border town, you can get a border-crossing card and it's relatively simple to prove that you have property in Mexico and that you have financial means. If you want to get an immigrant visa, a green card, let's just say for Mexico, you can wait in line for 20 years.
KELLY: That's NPR's John Burnett and our own Lulu Garcia-Navarro talking to us from Mission, Texas, there on the U.S.-Mexico border, reporting all this week. Thanks to you both.
BURNETT: Great to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thanks so much.
KELLY: And we'll hear more about the border next Sunday when Lulu is back. And next time on the Call In, we'll be talking about ride-sharing. Do you drive for a ride-sharing service? Is it a side hustle or your main job? Are you supporting your kids or paying for school? How do you make it work? Call in at 202-216-9217, leave us a voicemail with your full name, phone number, where you're from and your story, and we may use it on the air. Here's that number again - 202-216-9217.
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