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The COVID-19 Pandemic's Effect On Conditions At The U.S.-Mexico Border In Texas

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

An update now from some of the voices at the border we've heard on this program, as we look at how some of the policies of the Trump administration have impacted people over the past four years.

Early last year, Sister Norma Pimentel, director for Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley, called the situation at the border a humanitarian crisis.

NORMA PIMENTEL: When we hear all this narrative of the importance of a wall and sending out criminals and protecting us from crime and all these ugly people that are coming, I realize that they're failing to see A part of the immigration reality that we see on a daily basis - people who are just like us, who are suffering, and hurting and in need of great help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Monty Awbrey, a worker in the construction and oil industries, agreed but considered it a question of security, as well.

MONTY AWBREY: It's a humanitarian crisis. Whether the mayors or local law enforcement want to say, no, it's not, they're not in the rural areas out here. They don't see what goes on on a day-to-day basis. They've never had people walk up on their doorstep at 3 o'clock in the morning begging for help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Donald Trump has made immigration his signature issue from the launch of his campaign through the moment he accepted his party's nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

(SOUNDSBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records ordered deported from our country are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today, COVID-19 has become the central issue in southern Texas, where Monty Awbrey and Sister Norma Pimentel live. We called them for a check-in. Here's Monty.

AWBREY: We are considered a hotspot. Our borders are actually closed for nonessential people that do not work in the medical field or whatnot, so they can't come across. There's still people coming across - well, people didn't - illegal traffic didn't come through the border to begin with. They always crossed the river. So that's still happening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Monty continues to support President Donald Trump and his handling of COVID-19.

AWBREY: Honestly, I don't think that, you know, anybody put in that situation could have done a better job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But COVID-19 has affected him personally, too. He has family and friends who've been infected with the coronavirus.

AWBREY: Well, I've got a very large amount of friends that are law enforcement. They come in contact with people every day - Border Patrol, police departments, state police. They don't know where these people are from or where they've been or who they've been with or anything like that. So unfortunately, we've lost several agents and officers due to complications with COVID. That - it's a tough pill to swallow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The crisis of COVID-19 is different for Sister Norma Pimentel. She's spent years helping migrants at the border and says the pandemic has demoralized them in their efforts to seek asylum.

PIMENTEL: COVID has brought some changes, one of them being the fact that the United States has put a complete stop to the asylum-seeking process - of people having - asylum hearings were cancelled and were postponed pretty much indefinitely until further notice. So families are just waiting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sister Norma says Trump's latest policy of forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico has hidden the crisis from Americans.

PIMENTEL: Almost as if the problem of migration went away instantly, but it didn't. You know, it's still very present, but it's just across from the U.S. border in Mexico.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Sister Norma Pimentel. We also spoke with Monty Awbrey. Both reside in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which borders Mexico. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Remain in Mexico policy, but the case will not be resolved until after the election. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.