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Rep. Castro On Human Smuggling Deaths In San Antonio


Prosecutors say the driver of a truck knew the refrigeration system was not working as he drove through San Antonio. And so they alleged James M. Bradley Jr. should have known the immigrants he was smuggling in that truck were suffering and dying. The deaths of 10 people have refocused attention on human smuggling, which we will discuss with Democrat Joaquin Castro. He represents San Antonio in the House of Representatives. Congressman, good morning.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How big of a problem is human smuggling in your area in Texas?

CASTRO: It's a very big problem. In fact, Texas has the largest problem with not only human smuggling, but also human trafficking.

INSKEEP: And when we say big, we're talking about - what? - at this moment when migration is not what it once was, but we're still talking about thousands of people, and in a month or in a year.

CASTRO: Sure, thousands - and if you look at the geography of Texas, you've got major highways that lead both north and south, east and west. And so it becomes a crossroads for many human traffickers and smugglers to get people in the United States to different parts.

INSKEEP: You know, if you just think about the realities of human migration, I suppose there must be some of your constituents or people listening who actually would think, that was me in the truck, or that was my grandfather in the truck or, I have some family experience that I can relate to in this way.

CASTRO: Yeah, you know, I said a few days ago when the tragedy happened that most of all, it's a human tragedy. Aside - putting aside what you think politically on the issue of immigration, it is a human tragedy. Over the generations, people have died trying to come to the United States by land and by sea. And this was another example of desperate people who are seeking a better life trying to come here. And it's also a symptom, I believe, of a broken immigration system that Congress has refused to fix.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what exactly is broken because John Cornyn, your Republican colleague in the Senate from Texas, says that if there was more border security, it would prevent tragedies like this. People would not be crossing the border. Is he right?

CASTRO: Well, if you look at what the United States Senate passed a few years ago in a bipartisan way, that bill, which the speaker of the House refused to put up for a vote even though it looked like it actually had the votes to pass in the House, there were two anchors to that. First, there was increased border security, even though border crossings with Mexico are at about a 40-year low.

But the other part of it was there were opportunities for people to come here on visas, to come here and work and also an opportunity for the government to keep better track of who's coming into the country. So there are many pieces of the immigration system that need to be fixed. But Congress has failed spectacularly in doing anything about it.

INSKEEP: It looks like what's going to happen instead - the next step, anyway - is a $1.6 billion authorization for border-wall construction called for by President Trump. And I gather there's going to be a vote on that in the coming days. Are you for it?

CASTRO: That's right. I'll vote against it. It really is a 17th-century solution to a 21st-century challenge. And the idea that simply putting up a wall is going to solve all our problems, I think, is much too simplistic. And even Republicans in my home state of Texas are against this wall.

INSKEEP: Is there any little part of the immigration debate that feels bipartisan to you at the moment?

CASTRO: Well, right now, to be quite honest, in Congress, you know, it's been tough. I believed that we had - at least in the last few years, there was a lot of consensus around a few things - first, doing something about the dreamers - to give relief to the dreamers who are here through no fault of their own, and also making sure that we have enough workers to satisfy the agriculture industry, the tech industry and so forth. But even a lot of that has broken down lately.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much. It's a pleasure listening to you.

CASTRO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Joaquin Castro is a Democratic representative from San Antonio, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.