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Centrist Democrats want Biden and Congress to make border security a priority


A group of self-described centrist Democrats are urging their colleagues to focus on border security, following the passage of the foreign aid bill. Five Democratic members of the House called on President Biden to use his authority to more quickly remove migrants, and also called on Congress to pass a law allowing border officials to rapidly expel asylum-seekers, as they were able to do under the Trump-era policy known as Title 42. Joining me now is one of those Democrats, Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, the representative from Washington. Congresswoman, at least for now, that foreign aid does not have to be tied to border security. What are your chances, do you think, that a deal can get done on that?

MARIE GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: Well, you know, I can't predict what the probability is, but I can say the urgency. You know, these policies like Title 42, I mean, I think it's been one of the fundamental mistakes around immigration, is to debate whether or not an immigration policy is, you know, motivated by racial animus. By the way, I think a lot of them are, but a lot of people in rural and working-class communities like mine, we come from communities that have been hollowed out by fentanyl, and so we're watching our cousins, our neighbors, our coworkers overdose and die, and we are demanding operational control of the southern border. That can't wait for a perfect immigration policy to come along.

MARTÍNEZ: Did you think that the way Donald Trump's administration used Title 42 was an effective way to stem immigration?

GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: I don't think it's a question of stemming immigration. I mean, immigration itself is not the problem. The problem is that the U.S. does not have operational control of the southern border, and so a lot of Americans, a lot of American politicians have had this real focus on the very visceral images of the humanitarian crisis of the southern border, but what they're not seeing is what it's like to live in a country that is being run by a cartel. And so Biden needs to exercise his existing authority under Remain in Mexico, and Congress needs to give him back the presidential expulsion authority under Title 42.

MARTÍNEZ: How do you try to talk to your caucus about that? Because those things sound very, very Republican.

GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: I don't know that that is partisan. I mean, I think it's really - at its heart, it's like a fuller picture of what humanitarianism looks like. We have to listen to people in rural and working-class and the trades communities about what the impact of a unsecured border is in our communities, and so part of it is just resting back the narrative and saying, like, this is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of community.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, now that foreign aid is out of the discussion, at least for now, what kinds of compromises do you think can be made to get a deal done?

GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: Well, for me, it's important to stay at the table, you know? and I can't make my communities a priority for everybody else in Congress and my colleagues there. They have to decide what's important to them, but I'm going to continue to push the administration and my colleagues. And we have seen - history has shown - immigration policy is very, very difficult. Operational control - that is, I think, a lot more achievable in the near term.

MARTÍNEZ: What does that mean, Congresswoman, operational control?

GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: Well, I mean, I voted to fund Border Patrol to have a higher staffing level, being able to know who is coming in and out of our country, and it's not just about racial animus. It's about having a predictable, level playing field that reflects the values of our country.

MARTÍNEZ: And some of the things you talked about were part of the Senate deal that was dead on arrival at the House. If something like that Senate deal gets no traction, what are the chances, do you think, of any other kind of deal getting the kind of traction that would actually be agreed upon by everyone?

GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: The Freedom Caucus. It was the right wing that required a two-thirds majority to pass. It would have had a bipartisan simple majority to pass. But, you know, as long as the extremes of the party control it, it does make it difficult. I mean, my job is to depoliticize. You've got to take some of the ammunition and the fuel out of it and say, what are the constituent parts that we agree on? Because it becomes a choice, like, do you want the cartels to have control, or do you want our system of laws to have that? Those are the choices at hand.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Democratic Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington. Congresswoman, thank you very much.

GLUESENKAMP PEREZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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