Morning news brief
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The head of the U.S. Border Patrol says up to 65,000 people are near the southern border and ready to cross.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Some estimates are far higher. But whatever the exact number, people are in position as pandemic restrictions expire today. The policy, known as Title 42, made it easier for the U.S. to deport asylum-seekers and others. The big question now is whether the end of this policy will encourage a lot more people to cross.
INSKEEP: U.S. border officials are suggesting there's less to worry about than it may have seemed. NPR's Joel Rose is getting a look for himself. He's in El Paso, Texas. Hey there, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: What are you seeing?
ROSE: Well, there are migrants on the street in downtown El Paso. They are not hard to find. But there are not as many as you would have seen here, say, in December. Borderwide, there have been more than 10,000 migrant apprehensions per day now for several days in a row. And the number of people in Border Patrol holding facilities is way above their official capacity. There are upwards of 26,000 migrants in those facilities as of yesterday afternoon. That is according to the Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz. Ortiz says that number actually is down slightly from yesterday morning. He believes what's happening this week is the spike that people have been waiting for and that he does not expect to see another big jump after Title 42 lifts. Ortiz told reporters here that there are about 60 to 65,000 migrants waiting near the border to cross, though as you have noted, other estimates are much, much higher than that. And if those higher estimates are right, it could really overwhelm the resources of the Border Patrol and local communities.
INSKEEP: OK, so at least from the Border Patrol, an indication that this may not be that bad. Of course, we have to wait and see. What is El Paso doing to prepare for whatever happens?
ROSE: They are not taking any chances. They've opened an emergency shelter at a former middle school here to house migrants temporarily if necessary. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said that he had visited Juarez yesterday just across the border in Mexico, talked to officials there, and that the number of migrants in Juarez seemed to be down from just a few days ago.
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OSCAR LEESER: You've seen the numbers decline. We've seen the numbers are down, but we don't know what's coming in the next days. We know that they'll continue to come, and we'll continue to make sure that we help them.
ROSE: These are migrants who are fleeing from violence and poverty and political instability, you know, fleeing from countries all over the Western Hemisphere. But in practice, most of the migrants we're seeing here are from Venezuela and other South American countries.
INSKEEP: Twice you've had the indication from people of the numbers declining rather than increasing. Are you hearing from any of the migrants themselves?
ROSE: Yeah, we talked to one migrant named Lilibeth Ramirez, who came from Colombia along with her partner and their 4-year-old son. And she said they had been deliberately watching the situation at the border closely and made the decision to cross before Title 42 lifts.
LILIBETH RAMIREZ: (Through interpreter) Of course. We knew that if we crossed before the 11, the chances of being allowed to stay here were better for us.
ROSE: Her assessment is that U.S. authorities are going to begin cracking down on illegal border crossings, and it will get harder for migrants to come in after Title 42. But that is just one family. You know, other migrants we've talked with are confused about what the end of Title 42 is going to mean, and many could reach a very different conclusion and decide to cross later.
INSKEEP: True. But it's very interesting what you are hearing from that one person because the Biden administration has been saying they're making big changes to border policy that will still make it hard for people to cross when Title 42 ends. Sounds like she believes them. What are they doing?
ROSE: Yeah, the Biden administration has rolled out this combination of new legal pathways and much tougher restrictions on asylum at the border. The administration published its final text of a new rule on asylum yesterday, and they say they will begin enforcing that rule tomorrow.
INSKEEP: Well, NPR's Joel Rose will keep looking for the reality as it unfolds rather than just the fear of what may happen. Joel, thanks so much.
ROSE: You bet.
INSKEEP: NPR's Joel Rose is in El Paso, Texas, and watching.
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INSKEEP: Representative George Santos says he's not guilty and that he will not resign.
MARTIN: The first-term New York lawmaker appeared in court yesterday to face multiple criminal charges. Now, Santos has admitted that a lot of the resume he touted on his way to getting elected was made up. Now authorities say he used some of his stories to make money, collecting bogus unemployment claims and campaign contributions for his own benefit.
INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann was there and joins us now. Hey there, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: How does Santos defend himself?
MANN: Well, he says these federal charges are a witch hunt, though I have to say, Steve, he didn't offer an explanation for why federal prosecutors would single him out. These charges are incredibly detailed, alleging Santos used campaign cash to pay for personal luxuries like designer clothes. They say Santos bilked New York's unemployment system during the pandemic while he had a job. But speaking outside the courthouse, Santos said he plans to prove the charges are all false.
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GEORGE SANTOS: I will get to clear my name. I don't understand where the government's getting their information, but I will present my facts.
MANN: There was a big contrast between Santos's tone in the courtroom, where he was soft-spoken and polite, and those fiery interactions outside where he promised to fight.
INSKEEP: I guess we should note he is still a member of Congress. And will he continue casting votes and also, by the way, campaigning for reelection?
MANN: Yeah, that's right. Just like other lawmakers from both parties who face criminal charges, it doesn't disqualify Santos from serving. He says he's headed back to Washington this week to cast key votes. One wrinkle is that Santos was released on a $500,000 bond with pretty severe restrictions on his travel. He had to give up his passport. He's supposed to remain in Washington or New York City. If he travels anywhere else, he has to get permission from the government. He's really unpopular in his district, but he said yesterday he thinks he can win back voters' trust.
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SANTOS: Like I said, I've asked many times, I want to be judged by the work I do in the body and I stay committed to that.
MANN: But this reelection effort - it's a really tough road if he beats these charges. Remember, he also lied about his career, his education, his family's background, pretty much everything.
INSKEEP: What are his constituents saying?
MANN: Well, many are angry. I spoke yesterday with Joshua Sauvernan, who came to the courthouse to protest against Santos, and asked why he was there.
JOSHUA SAUVERNAN: Because the person that my district sent to Congress is a complete and total fraud.
MANN: What do you think about the fact that he has been laid with 13 criminal charges?
SAUVERNAN: I'm not surprised by it. And quite frankly, I'm expecting more charges.
MANN: And there are still other investigations underway into Santos's behavior, one by a local district attorney, another by the House Ethics Committee in Washington.
INSKEEP: I guess we should note it's extraordinary that a lawmaker would tell so many obvious lies, but it is not really that unusual for one lawmaker or another to be under investigation or under indictment. Does this particular charge against a very junior lawmaker matter much?
MANN: Well, George Santos is actually a key vote in this narrowly divided Congress. And so far, Republican leaders are sticking by him. But this scandal has the potential to drag down other Republicans here in New York who did really well in last year's midterms. Remember, the Republican Party's winning message in New York has been a tough stance on crime. And now one of their most visible members is serving on the House floor after being arrested. And Santos is scheduled to be back here in court next month.
INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann.
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INSKEEP: The Environmental Protection Agency is releasing a new proposal this morning.
MARTIN: The agency is trying again to limit the emissions of carbon linked to climate change. The agency wants to all but eliminate carbon dioxide from coal- and gas-fired plants.
INSKEEP: We say they're trying again because the Supreme Court threw out the last effort or a previous effort. Jeff Brady from NPR's Climate Desk is here. Hey there, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hey.
INSKEEP: What would these rules do?
BRADY: Well, for big coal- and gas-fired plants that run all the time, they'd have to capture 90% of their carbon dioxide emissions that come out of smokestacks or burn some clean forms of hydrogen. And these changes have to come pretty quickly. President Biden has a goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035. And that - the emission limits - they're based on what current carbon-capture technology can do. That's for the big power plants that operators want to keep running for a long time. For other plants that are scheduled to shut down in the next few years or that run less often, they would face less stringent emission limits. Here's what EPA Administrator Michael Regan says that would do for the climate.
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MICHAEL REGAN: EPA's proposal is expected to avoid more than 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2042, which is equivalent to cutting emissions from half the total number of cars in the United States for an entire year.
BRADY: And Regan says there are significant health benefits, especially for people with breathing problems, because in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, other air pollutants get reduced, too.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's interesting. But how are these rules different from the attempt that was made under the Obama administration known as the Clean Power Plan?
BRADY: Well, to start, the EPA thinks the rules announced this morning will withstand legal scrutiny from a conservative Supreme Court. The Obama-era rules did not. Those were overturned last year. The court sided with critics who said the agency overstepped its authority by telling power plant owners to switch away from fossil fuels to cleaner electricity like solar and wind and nuclear. This time, the EPA is taking a different approach. It's setting emission limits for individual power plants. But these will be even stricter than what the Obama administration proposed nearly a decade ago. And that's a big deal because the power sector is the second-biggest source of greenhouse gases behind transportation.
INSKEEP: OK, so they're not ordering companies to switch over to a different fuel, but they're saying restrict emissions. Use carbon capture if you can, which may be expensive. What does the industry think?
BRADY: Well, as you can imagine, they're not happy. They argue the new rules would shut down a lot of plants, hurting reliability and increasing costs for taxpayers or for ratepayers. Administrator Regan says EPA numbers show costs will not rise significantly, and he disputes the reliability claims. He says that was considered in drafting these proposed rules. The coal industry probably has the most to lose here since coal-fired plants are more carbon intensive. And Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from the coal state of West Virginia - he had harsh words for the Biden administration. He criticized what he called the administration's, quote, "radical climate agenda" and said he'll block the administration's EPA nominees in the Senate until something changes.
INSKEEP: Is this EPA proposal going to become reality?
BRADY: You know, it's still a long process before it becomes a final rule. They're collecting comments. That's the next step. Final rules are expected next year, but I'm almost certain we can expect a court challenge.
INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks so much.
BRADY: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's Jeff Brady from NPR's Climate Desk.
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