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U.S. Sees Record Number Of Migrants Taken Into Custody At Southern Border

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

More migrants were taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border last month than at any time in the past 15 years. That's a sign of how many people are coming. So what's drawing them in? Arizona's Republican governor blames President Biden's rhetoric, although advocates for migrants point to natural and manmade disasters in the people's home countries. Arizona Public Media's Alisa Reznick reports from both sides of the border.

ALISA REZNICK, BYLINE: Arizona's Republican Governor Doug Ducey is among the critics of President Joe Biden on immigration.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DOUG DUCEY: I'm going to call this situation what it is - a crisis, a manmade crisis caused by elites in Washington, D.C., who are totally divorced from the reality on the ground.

REZNICK: Some border communities are housing more asylum-seekers and families now, and some Trump-era policies are rolling back - but not one called Title 42, which, to prevent the coronavirus, sends almost all migrants back into Mexico. That's what happened to Juan Manuel Perez. He was detained in the Arizona desert on Easter by the Border Patrol. He says he spent two months in immigration detention in 2015 for trying to cross the border illegally, and he was deported back home to Guatemala.

JUAN MANUEL PEREZ: (Through interpreter) I was very surprised because, supposedly, they were going to give me eight months in prison again because I've been deported three times.

REZNICK: Under Title 42, people don't face the same penalties for crossing multiple times. It also means they don't get the small amount of due process afforded to migrants apprehended before the pandemic. Perez is relieved not to be in detention, but he says he needs to get to the U.S.

PEREZ: (Through interpreter) Well, because of the great need I have, because I have an 8-year-old son. He's sick. He needs surgery. I don't have any money.

REZNICK: I met Perez at an aid outpost in Agua Prieta, Mexico, called the Migrant Resource Center. Volunteers cooked as migrants rested outside. Center organizer Betto Ramos says dozens are expelled here at all hours of the day. But despite COVID, they still find ways to help.

BETTO RAMOS: (Through interpreter) We keep responding because, really, these migrants are very vulnerable, and they need a lot of help from us.

REZNICK: A senior Customs and Border Protection official said the agency is still using Title 42 to remove families and single adults, but the Biden administration is no longer applying it to unaccompanied children. Alex Miller with the legal aid group Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project says that's creating confusion. She says families admitted by the Border Patrol in one place could be turned away in another, so it's hard to advise people on what to do next.

ALEX MILLER: We encourage them to wait. We highlight the dangers. But really, with no pathway forward and the danger that folks face daily at the border, there's little incentive at this point, after a year of Title 42, to wait.

REZNICK: The impossibility of waiting is how Juan Manuel Perez, the Guatemalan father, explains his own situation.

PEREZ: (Through interpreter) Like I was telling you, I don't have a house. I don't have land. So I go to the United States. I'm taking my chances. If I make it or not, I'm going to try.

REZNICK: Perez says he just wants an opportunity to work and send money home. Right now he doesn't have the means to attempt another border crossing, so he's hoping for luck.

For NPR News, I'm Alisa Reznick in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.