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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden's administration proposed a change to immigration laws meant to discourage people from crossing the border illegally.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The regulation announced yesterday is modest in scope. It would make it easier for the United States to deport some asylum-seekers who are considered a security risk. But that small change illuminates the administration's larger strategy toward thousands of asylum-seekers who have come to the southern border.

FADEL: Which you've heard about, Steve, because you spoke with the Secretary of Homeland Security this week.

INSKEEP: Yeah, we interviewed Alejandro Mayorkas for this NPR election series on immigration.

FADEL: Yeah. So what did you find out? What's the wider strategy?

INSKEEP: Well, the administration wants people to enter the U.S. legally or not at all. They want people to apply for asylum from their home countries or at an American port of entry instead of slipping in through the desert. Here's how Mayorkas put it.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Well, our goal is to eliminate to the fullest extent possible the phenomenon of what is commonly termed irregular migration. People placing their lives and their life savings in the hands of smugglers to arrive in between the ports of entry, which is dangerous and also feeds a criminal network, and instead use lawful pathways to make claims for relief under United States law.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The U.S. has made it easier to get here from some troubled countries like Venezuela and a little harder for asylum-seekers to stay if they don't choose one of those legal pathways. I should mention the administration also wanted to expand immigration courts, so people who are not eligible for asylum would be deported more quickly, but that requires a change in law, which Republicans in Congress first supported and then rejected.

FADEL: Right. This bipartisan bill. Donald Trump blasted the bill and then told Republicans not to support it.

INSKEEP: Right.

FADEL: What's the basic difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue?

INSKEEP: We should emphasize some Republicans agree with Democrats on the legislation...

FADEL: Right.

INSKEEP: ...But broadly speaking, Democrats want people to enter the country legally, while the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party wants people really not to be coming so much at all. And Trump talks of mass deportation.

FADEL: What does Biden's chief immigration law enforcement official see? How does he see his job?

INSKEEP: Well, Mayorkas is a former prosecutor who says he will enforce the law and also a one-time Cuban refugee who says he understands what it means to be displaced, and you can hear the competing pressures in this exchange.

Do you think most people who ask for asylum have a legitimate case?

MAYORKAS: I would respectfully submit that the majority do not qualify.

INSKEEP: So most of them, if it got right down to it, probably should not have come if you were able to give them advice.

MAYORKAS: I mean, if I were able to give them advice, of course, but I don't mean to diminish the desperation that fuels their travel...

INSKEEP: Sure.

MAYORKAS: ...And their flight. When loving parents are fearful of sending their daughter to school because the walk is so precarious, and they actually take the leap to send that daughter alone to traverse another country, only to reach our southern border - I don't want to diminish what that means in the lives of people. But the fact of the matter is if they don't qualify for relief, they won't stay.

INSKEEP: And Mayorkas says that on his watch, the Department of Homeland Security has returned 720,000 people to their home countries just in the past year. And Homeland Security officials offer that number because it is the opposite of the picture painted by Republicans who talk routinely of open borders.

FADEL: Right. And more of that conversation can be heard on MORNING EDITION.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: A vessel carrying aid to a floating pier off the coast of Gaza set sail from Cyprus yesterday.

INSKEEP: U.S. officials say the American-built pier will help to increase the flow of aid into the war zone where 2.3 million people live. Aid groups are questioning the value of this plan. The U.S. is setting up the floating pier because its ally Israel has closed the land crossings into Gaza through which food and supplies would normally flow.

FADEL: And to tell us more, we're joined by NPR's Jane Arraf. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So we've been hearing about this pier for a while. The U.S. has said it will help address what the U.N. and aid groups call increasing famine in Gaza. Tell us what's happening with it.

ARRAF: Well, the U.S. military says that components of the pier are waiting at an Israeli port to be assembled. Bad weather has delayed it, but the Pentagon says it could be in operation as early as next week. U.S. officials say a ship loaded with food will offload onto a smaller vessel in Israel, and then it will head back to Cyprus for more aid. It's carrying about 170 tons, enough to feed 11,000 people for a month. And to put that number in perspective, Leila, as you noted, Gaza has more than two million people in it. After seven months of war, almost all of them are dependent on aid.

FADEL: So clearly, not enough - so much need. And there's a lot of criticism from aid groups, but is this a situation where every little bit helps? I mean, why are they so frustrated with this approach?

ARRAF: Well, essentially, it comes down to how much you can truck in through those existing land borders versus how much you can air drop or send by sea. Israel says it needs to restrict the crossings to prevent Hamas from bringing weapons in. But aid officials say malnutrition and disease are now rampant. Aid officials operating in Gaza this week gave an unvarnished view of the pier. One at a press briefing called the pier a joke. And here's another, pediatrician John Kahler, co-founder of MedGlobal.

JOHN KAHLER: This is like a lab of malnutrition. You can see the food all up and down the corridor. And you don't need any silly piers or silly airdrops. You need the damn gates open.

ARRAF: Another medical aid official pointed out that the pier, according to the U.S., will cost $320 million. That would buy a lot of truckloads of aid. And she called a plan to use contractors to distribute the aid the privatization of aid efforts. And aid groups also point out Israel will use the same cumbersome inspection process for the pier. They say what's lacking isn't the resources or the aid but the political will to get it in.

FADEL: And about that political will, I mean, publicly, there is a widening gap between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How much of that is affecting the humanitarian crisis we're seeing?

ARRAF: Quite a lot. In April, after an Israel airstrike killed seven members of the U.S.-based World Central Kitchen in Gaza, the U.S. received commitments from Israel that it would reopen a border crossing and allow more aid in through two existing ones. And while the number of trucks going in increased briefly, Israel has now stopped all aid through the main Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza. So aid workers are seeing the effect of malnutrition and the lack of medical supplies increasingly compounded with traumatic injuries. We have to remember that both Biden and Netanyahu are balancing different factions of political support at home.

FADEL: Right.

ARRAF: For the first time, the U.S. has publicly held up some weapons shipments, but aid groups say that's not nearly as much leverage as the U.S. could exert to get in more aid.

FADEL: That's NPR's Jane Arraf. Thank you, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Two months after gangs in Haiti orchestrated a coup that took control of the capital, the country may finally be starting to stabilize.

INSKEEP: A council is supposed to choose a new leader, and then that council is supposed to help establish a new transitional government. A multinational force led by Kenya plans to deploy in the country as early as the next couple of weeks.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta is in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So you're there in Port-au-Prince, where you've been reporting on the air that criminal gangs still control much of the capital. The airport is still closed after nearly two months of fighting. I mean, what's the city like?

PERALTA: You know, I've been here before, but this time it feels a little eerie, I think surreal, even. And I'll tell you why. You make your way across town, and it feels pretty normal. Stores are open. Street vendors are out in full force. There's traffic. And there are people going to work and kids going to school. But then you see signs that things are not normal. Burnt-out cars are being used to barricade the streets. And on Wednesday, I saw two bodies just thrown in the middle of two different streets.

FADEL: Wow.

PERALTA: One of them - we don't know how they died, and the other was an older lady. A doctor told us that she came from outside Port-au-Prince, that she died of natural causes and that her body ended up on the streets. The local morgue here was burnt down by gangs, so the doctors said that it's possible that people just didn't know what to do with her body.

FADEL: Wow.

PERALTA: And this is daily life here in Port-au-Prince. It's a place where the government has collapsed, where the gangs control most of this city and where everyone is scared that they could be the next one on the side of the road.

FADEL: Wow. I mean, and you're seeing these signs of collapse everywhere. What are people telling you?

PERALTA: There's a lot of talk about politics, whether this new transitional government will be able to bring peace, whether it can bring elections. And everyone is talking about this multinational force that is supposed to deploy in the next few weeks. I was at a big plaza just opposite the presidential palace. Jerome Nadel was arguing against foreign troops. International missions, he said, have brought nothing but trouble in the past. And he was saying that the independence hero, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, would be rolling over in his grave at this moment. Let's listen.

JEROME NADEL: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He said the spirit from Jean-Jacques Dessalines will not any foreign troops to come.

JEAN ADDIGEAN: (Non-English language spoken).

JEAN ADDIGEAN: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: And what you're hearing there is a verbal tussle between these men. Jean Addigean interrupts there, and he says, "just send us well-armed men." He told me that he had to leave his home because of the violence. His family is outside the city. And at this point, he wants to go back home. He doesn't care about sovereignty. He said he just wants peace at any cost.

FADEL: So a lot riding on this transitional government. What's the latest with that?

PERALTA: Well, you know, they had made some progress earlier this month. A bare majority of them, 4 out of 7, had named a president of the council and a transitional prime minister, and they got huge blowback. These four members were accused of not even trying to find a broad consensus, and they were accused of just trying to take power. So they walked both of these decisions back. The council is now going to be ruled by a rotating presidency, but those details are still being worked out. And that pretty much puts us at square one.

I spoke to one of the members of the council, Leslie Voltaire, and he told me that they are focused on making sure this multinational force gets here. And, you know, I reported from Kenya for years, and I've seen this police force in action, and they can be both ruthless and ineffective. And Voltaire said they're aware of this checkered history of the Kenyan police force but that it was, quote, "a necessary evil."

LESLIE VOLTAIRE: Like, 40% of the police is corrupt and associated with the gangs. We know that it's not the best thing that we have, but it's what we have.

PERALTA: And what he's saying there is, we can't trust our police, so the only thing left to do is to bring in foreign troops.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.