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Immigrations groups challenge Biden's asylum restrictions in court

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's been a week since President Biden issued several executive actions that severely restrict asylum reque100sts from migrants crossing the border with no authorization. Earlier today, several organizations, including the ACLU, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration. They say these executive actions leave people with legitimate asylum claims out in the cold. NPR's Jasmine Garsd is at the southern border. She's reporting on this. She joins me now. Hey, Jasmine.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. OK, I know you're at the border. Where exactly are you joining us from?

GARSD: I'm in Jacumba, which is a community right along the border in California. And on any given day, well over a hundred people cross in through a gap in the wall, and they wait to turn themselves in and ask for asylum. So I spoke to one woman yesterday. She said her name is Maria. She worked for the government in Ecuador, and she asked that we withhold her last name because her brother was recently killed by gangs and her family is in trouble.

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I had to get out of there," she says. "I couldn't stay. We're here to ask for protection."

Now, people like her, their situation has changed with Biden's executive actions, which state that right now, unless they are victims of human trafficking or unaccompanied minors, they cannot apply for asylum because they crossed the border unauthorized. And these people are exactly what this lawsuit is about.

KELLY: OK, and tell me more about the lawsuit. What's it actually claiming?

GARSD: So the suit is being brought by the ACLU, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Texas Civil Rights Project. Earlier today, NPR spoke to Lee Gelernt from the ACLU. He says American law is very clear about asylum-seekers.

LEE GELERNT: If you get to U.S. soil and you get to a safe place, we will screen you for asylum. We won't necessarily give you asylum if you don't have a credible claim. But we will at least screen you, and it doesn't matter how you get to U.S. soil.

GARSD: And he reminded me that the ACLU has successfully sued the Trump administration for a similar policy.

KELLY: The Trump administration. OK, well, since it's the Biden team that's in office now, how are they responding?

GARSD: Well, the Biden administration hasn't responded directly to this lawsuit yet. When he enacted the proclamations, President Biden said that immigration remains part of the U.S.'s core identity, but securing the border is an immediate priority. Now, critics say part of that core American identity is letting people who are in danger cross the border in order to ask for protection.

KELLY: Jasmine, we know that immigration is high in the minds of voters in America in this election year. What message is President Biden trying to send with these executive actions?

GARSD: Well, the administration is attempting to send a message that it is cracking down on undocumented immigration. And immigration is a concern for many voters. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 45% of Americans said the number of people showing up at the border is a major problem, and many of them feel Biden's plan is not nearly enough. Now, on the other hand, this very swift lawsuit against Biden signals that for many who want to see immigration reform, this type of sweeping rule, which is reminiscent of Trump-era policies, is disappointing. It's not what they expect from a Democratic administration.

KELLY: Well, let's bring it back to the human level. We said you're at the border. You are there to talk to asylum-seekers and locals. What are you hearing about how all this is landing?

GARSD: There's a sense that this is political theater, that the level of desperation that has brought many of these migrants here speaks to a much larger crisis of global displacement, and ultimately that the U.S. needs to change how it processes and receives immigrants because the flow is simply not going to stop.

KELLY: Thank you, Jasmine.

GARSD: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Jasmine Garsd.

(SOUNDBITE OF DE LA SOUL AND USHER SONG, "GREYHOUNDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.