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U.S. must enforce immigration laws along the southern border, Rep. Gonzalez says

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Mexico's president yesterday to talk about the U.S. southern border, where up to 10,000 migrants are being arrested each day. Congressman Vicente Gonzalez is a Democrat representing a Texas district that hugs the border. With a caravan of several thousand migrants heading toward the United States, I asked him about his call for greater scrutiny of asylum-seekers.

VICENTE GONZALEZ: We need to raise the credible fear standard at the border, and we need to have expedited hearings, and we need to have expedited removals, and we need to enforce American immigration laws in a humane way. We're not going to rip children out of mothers' arms and separate families like what happened under the Trump administration. But we do need to enforce American immigration laws at the border.

KHALID: What is it exactly that you want from President Biden, from his White House?

GONZALEZ: Well, what I've been proposing is something called the Safe Zone Act, and this could be implemented through executive order that creates safe zones in places like Guatemala, Panama, Colombia. And we process asylum claims 1,500 miles, 2,000, 3,000 miles away from our border. It eliminates the cartels out of the equation. It takes the pressure off our border. And it's really the most humane way to deal with migrants that are making this long, very dangerous, difficult trek up to our southern border.

KHALID: What response have you gotten from the Biden White House to your concerns?

GONZALEZ: Recently there's been some interest, but in order to really do it, you really got to put your foot down and say, OK, anybody who doesn't go through this process is going to be returned home.

KHALID: You are a Democrat, Congressman, and President Biden is also, of course, a Democrat. I am curious, if you look back broadly on the last three years, how would you grade his handling of border and immigration policies?

GONZALEZ: I would give him a C-minus.

KHALID: OK, so passing.

GONZALEZ: Passing, yeah. I mean, there's order to some extent, and it's dealt with humanely, but, simply said, we need to enforce our laws. We need to scrutinize asylum-seekers further.

KHALID: Congressman, it seems like getting anything done on immigration is very challenging in Congress, and it has been for some years. But it also isn't clear to me that there is consensus within either party about what to do. Within your party, the Democratic Party, do you feel that there is consensus on what to do about border policy?

GONZALEZ: Well, I think that may be the problem, right? We have extremes on both sides. We have folks who think it should be really easy to come to our southern border and ask for asylum and get into the country, and then you have folks who feel the way I do that think that we should be much stricter on our southern border. But clearly, what's happening now is disgraceful. And to have a policy that invites, you know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people to come into our southern border - I don't care how you look at it. It's just wrong. And I know it upsets people in my party when I say some of these things. Listen, my heart breaks when I see these people. I know they're coming from the poorest, most difficult corners of the world. But our asylum laws have been in place for many, many, many years, yet we've never had the issues that we've had the last six or seven years ever in our history. I've been on the border all my life. I've never seen this mass migration coming across our border and being processed and released ever.

KHALID: What changed?

GONZALEZ: Well, I think the enforcement and the way we deal with these policies have changed. And that's not a Democratic or Republican problem. It's an American problem that needs to be resolved in a bipartisan way. This is real life, and we're dealing with this on an everyday basis, and we would appreciate more support from the federal government in really implementing the laws that we have now and enforcing them.

KHALID: That's Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas. Thanks so much for joining us.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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