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Exploring how and why so many migrants are crossing the southern border

As the Biden administration continues to face questions about its response plan to stem the influx of migrants, Senior National Correspondent Amna Nawaz was on the southern border last night, watching as several people crossed into the United States. She reports on the ground realities from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as the Biden administration works to respond to the influx of migrants, our Amna Nawaz was on the border last night, watching as several people crossed into the United States.

    She reports from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the sun goes down over Juarez, this group has just made their way from Mexico into the United States. After crossing the river and climbing the banks, they quickly scale the wall.

    From our vantage point, they disappear among the trains on the other side.

    We have come to this place that we have heard from local sources the number of border crossings has been going up in recent weeks. Sure enough, that crossing that we just witnessed happened in a matter of minutes.

    What's really remarkable, though, is that this was an area that was patrolled by Mexican National Guard just a few minutes ago. And there's a U.S. Customs and Border Protection truck about 100 yards down that way.

    At this location, the distance from one nation to the next is a matter of feet, separated by a shallow, narrow stretch of the Rio Grande River. The pedestrian bridge linking the U.S. and Mexico is mere minutes away, but without documents to enter, they'd be turned back before setting foot on American soil.

    Crossing here means they're likely to get picked up by Border Patrol, and can then make a case to stay in the U.S.

    On the Juarez side, people are milling about in these evening hours. A park nearby draws parents and children. On the El Paso side, Border Patrol cars regularly scout the area. Still, very soon, we see another crossing at a point further down the banks, this time, a group that looks like four adults, one carrying a baby in his arms.

    They climb up the U.S. side, jogging for a moment, then walking along the wall and out of our sight. Soon after, 50 yards the other direction, a group that looks like four teenage boys. Not long after that, what looks like a mother and daughter. They wade carefully through the water, but the mother struggles to make it up the steep incline. The girl reaches back to help her up.

    Eventually, they reach the top, and continue walking, hand in hand on their way.

    I have to tell you, this is an incredibly long stretch of land. The families and groups seem to come out of nowhere, and then make their way quickly across. We did try to ask some of them as they were crossing where they were from. We did not get an answer. So we don't know much about the families, but we do now they have made their way into the United States.

    The vast majority of people apprehended crossing the border right now are being turned back around to Mexico under a pandemic-related rule called Title 42. But the Biden administration is not turning away unaccompanied minors, and border agents are making exceptions for some families.

    U.S. officials say they are seeing high rates of recidivism, the same people attempting to cross again and again.

    Ruben Garcia, who has worked in migrant services in the area for over 40 years, says the rule keeping people out could also be fueling the current increase in unaccompanied minors.

  • Ruben Garcia:

    Families that have been expelled multiple times that are traveling with children, and some of them are making the decision to send their children in by themselves, because they have families someplace in the U.S., and they know their children will be released to them.

    So, in a sense, our Title 42 policy is helping to contribute to the unaccompanied minor surge that we're seeing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In response to our request for comment, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman reiterated that the border is not open, and that the vast majority of people crossing are sent back to Mexico under that Title 42.

    But he also pointed us to recent data specific to this El Paso sector. Year to date, the number of unaccompanied minors crossing here has seen an increase of 144 percent compared to last year. Among single adults, they have seen an increase of 231 percent.

    Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose district includes El Paso, says those numbers will grow. But many of the single adults are the same people trying to cross multiple times.

  • Rep. Veronica Escobar:

    So, Title 42 doesn't address anything. It doesn't solve anything. It basically postpones the inevitable. None of these policies that push people and limit their legal avenues do anything in the long term.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In an op-ed for The New York Times today, she wrote — quote — "Americans must finally acknowledge that the real crisis is not at the border, but outside it, and that, until we address that crisis, this flow of vulnerable people seeking help at our doorstep will not end anytime soon."

    Last week, a group of Republican House members visited El Paso to decry President Biden's policies. On Friday, a Republican Senate group will visit the Southern border. Escobar will host her own congressional delegation here in El Paso this weekend.

  • Veronica Escobar:

    All of these Republican delegations that are coming to the border, the — what is unsettling to me is the way they use the border as a prop. All of that moves us further away from a real dialogue and real conversations.

    We have got to focus on solutions, or we're going to have this conversation every single year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those solutions may be harder to find with Washington's political wars now being waged on the border.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz in Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

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