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In Mass Expulsion, The U.S. Begins Flying Haitian Migrants Home From Texas

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. has started flying Haitians back to their country after thousands were found in a makeshift camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, along the southern border. The Biden administration's immigration problems at the border and in Washington, D.C., are multiplying fast. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and is with us now. Joel, good morning.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with what's happening on the policy front here in Washington. Democrats have been trying to cram an immigration overhaul into a massive budget bill. Explain what happened last night.

ROSE: Right. Well, the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, it's her job to interpret the Senate's own rules and decide what can be part of the budget reconciliation and what can't. And in this case, she said no to the proposed immigration changes. In her ruling, MacDonough said that those - the proposed immigration overhaul amounts to a major policy change, one that has relatively little to do with the budget, and therefore it cannot be included in budget reconciliation.

MARTIN: So what's the impact of that decision?

ROSE: It's a serious blow to Democrats' hopes of getting this immigration overhaul done. And, you know - and they had been hoping to add a - create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants, including DREAMers, but also farmworkers and other essential workers who are undocumented. And reconciliation would allow Democrats to pass that legislation without any Republican votes in the Senate. Without reconciliation, the Democrats can't sidestep a Republican filibuster. The Democrats and their allies say they're disappointed, but they were not surprised. Senators, including Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, say they have alternative proposals that they will present to the parliamentarian, hoping to, you know, get her to change her mind.

MARTIN: And we should just point out again, the parliamentarian is a nonpartisan referee of Senate rules.

ROSE: Exactly.

MARTIN: So that's the happenings in D.C. on this. Let's turn our attention to what is happening on the border in Del Rio, Texas. Explain this.

ROSE: Yeah, there are still more than 10,000 migrants, many of them originally from Haiti, who are camped out in squalid conditions under the International Bridge there. Yesterday, the Biden administration began putting some of them on planes and flying them out of the U.S. Here's Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz speaking to reporters in Del Rio.

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RAUL ORTIZ: We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat elements and from underneath this bridge in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States, consistent with our laws and our policies.

ROSE: Ortiz said immigration authorities have removed about 3,000 people from this makeshift camp already. The Department of Homeland Security says just over 300 have already been expelled on removal flights to Haiti. And Ortiz laid out a pretty aggressive timeline, hoping that all the migrants - remaining migrants - you know, could be out of Del Rio within a week.

MARTIN: Can you explain more about who these people are exactly and how did so many end up in Del Rio?

ROSE: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, many are originally from Haiti but had been living in South America. Some say they're trying to cross in Del Rio because the area is safer than other parts of the border, you know, and they're hoping for a better life in the U.S. The Biden administration is responding by publicly trying to deter these migrants from crossing the border. Their message is, you know, we will quickly expel you under Title 42. That is the public health order that was put in place by the Trump administration that gives immigration authorities the power to, you know, quickly expel migrants in the name of preventing the coronavirus. But Title 42 infuriates immigrant rights advocates, and they say it's illegal and cruel to invoke it against Haitian migrants in particular.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose. He covers immigration for us. We appreciate it. Thank you.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.