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Thousands of migrants at the border will be affected by 'Remain in Mexico' decision

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Let's dig deeper into the Remain in Mexico ruling that we expect later today. We reached out to Kevin Johnson. He's dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis, and we asked him what this could mean for asylum-seekers waiting at the border and for immigration policy.

KEVIN JOHNSON: Even if the Supreme Court says that the Biden administration didn't follow the proper procedures in rescinding the Remain in Mexico policy, the Biden administration could go back, make sure that it provides a reasoned and clear rationale for changing the policy, and in the end, the president does have the authority and the power to change these kinds of policies.

Now, one sticking point here is Texas is claiming that it violates the law not to detain all migrants who cross the border and seek asylum. So if the court were to find that that's the case, then the federal government would have to change the policy, detain the asylum-seekers or come up with some other alternative to ensure that they're kept in custody. It'd be very difficult and very costly. There could be more detention facilities. There could be working with state and local governments on detention facilities. There could be more private contracting of detention facilities, as we've seen over the last 10 to 15 years.

MARTINEZ: And of course, with immigration issues being so politically sensitive, with an eye toward the midterms some Democrats out there probably would prefer that this policy was out of their hands or if the court required the Biden administration to move a lot slower on this. Where do you come down on that?

JOHNSON: Well, I'm certainly not a politician, but the question here is, yes, immigration is an issue in the midterms. Democrats are worried about losing some seats in Congress in the midterm elections. At the same time, on the other side of the equation, you have the human costs of the Remain in Mexico policy, of placing tens of thousands of asylum-seekers in poor - that's probably being generous - conditions in Mexico and waiting indefinitely for their claims to be decided. Some would say that that kind of system which discourages asylum-seekers violates international law, as well as U.S. law, and that the human costs outweigh any political benefits of leaving the Remain in Mexico policy in place.

MARTINEZ: Republicans such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott have blamed the bodies found in a truck in San Antonio on the immigration policies of the Biden administration. With Remain in Mexico on the line in this case and Title 42 continuing - and 42 is a public health order that sealed off the border in the beginning of the pandemic - both are Trump-era policies, yet people still are trying to come over the border. What do you make of that if these two immigration deterrents still don't have the desired effect?

JOHNSON: Yeah. No, I think that the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio is a symptom of a much larger disease, really. You know, the basic immigration statute was passed in 1952, and it was designed to keep communists out of the United States. We really haven't comprehensively reformed those immigration laws to deal with the various issues that are important in the 21st century. We do not have immigration laws that allow for relatively low- and medium-skilled workers to come to this country legally, and we've created in our laws incentives for undocumented immigration. I think it's an issue of the nation as a whole and any president who's in place.

And it really, to me, shows the need for comprehensive immigration reform, rethinking our borders, rethinking immigration laws because the human costs of our immigration policy, they have been ongoing for a number of years, with people dying along the desert on a daily basis as we've militarized large cities and ports of entry. I think it tells you a lot when people are willing to risk life and death to come to this country despite border walls, more enforcement, mandatory detention, Title 42 policy and the Remain in Mexico policy.

MARTINEZ: That's professor Kevin Johnson, immigration law expert at UC Davis law school. Professor, thanks.

JOHNSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.