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Why Republicans are opposed to the lifting of Title 42 border restrictions


What's really at stake in the convoluted Supreme Court case over the border? The court plans to hear arguments over what is called Title 42. That refers to a public health rule that allows the federal government to expel asylum-seekers without a hearing on their cases because of the pandemic - the idea being they might spread COVID-19 into the United States, as if COVID wasn't already here. President Biden's administration planned to lift that rule since the United States has abandoned many other pandemic restrictions, but 19 Republican-led states sued to intervene in the case, and the court froze the rules for now. Republican strategist Mike Madrid is going to talk through the politics of this with us. Good morning.

MIKE MADRID: Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: I guess I should state the obvious. This isn't at all about the pandemic, is it?

MADRID: This is not about the pandemic, and it never has been. This is, unfortunately, a small skirmish in this broader war on immigration reform that the country seems to be incapable of addressing. The last time we had any sort of a comprehensive immigration reform program was 1986. And both sides - both parties are so dug into their respective positions that these small tweaks, these small adjustments, these small opportunities like Title 42 tend to take on this enhanced value when trying to make changes that don't require significant legislative efforts.

So no, this has never been about the pandemic. It's always been about these nominal changes or nominal adjustments in immigration policy. And, unfortunately, a lot - millions of people now are being affected by the performative nature of the politics going on here.

INSKEEP: Again, in practical terms, what 19 Republican states are saying - Republican-led states are saying is we do not want asylum-seekers to receive a hearing. We want them to be thrown out. In practical terms, that's what they're saying. But what do they really want? What are they seeking here?

MADRID: They really want the issue to remain. They really want to keep the border issue as it is because it serves them politically. And that's not to suggest that there isn't partisan politics going on on both sides of this, but it's clearly much more enhanced on the Republican side. If this issue goes away - if this issue is resolved, the Republicans lose essentially one of the great motivators they have for their base. And that really has been one of the driving problems since the early 2000s on trying to get a deal done on immigration reform.

And so the visuals - the constant visuals of caravans coming from Central America; encampments now, when there are border surges, with people living, you know, in tents on the border, waiting for their asylum claims; flying people to Martha's Vineyard from other states - this is all part of the theater that, unfortunately, is not only affecting people's lives, but it's being used to demonstrate - quote-unquote, "demonstrate" this border crisis, forcing the hands - in their view, forcing the hands of Democrats to increase border security, which, of course, the likelihood of that happening without a comprehensive deal is de minimis. And that, they believe - Republicans believe enhances their positions politically.

INSKEEP: Although let's talk through the practical concerns here. The concern is, you lift title 42, you get a surge - an additional surge of people seeking asylum. And there's already an awful lot of people coming to the border, in relative terms, compared to recent years. There are also some Democrats. Senator Raphael Warnock comes to mind. Earlier this year, there were some Democrats who said, wait a minute, we actually don't know what would happen after this policy is lifted. We don't know what to do with this surge of people. We are not prepared for this. Is there a case to be made that the country is not ready?

MADRID: There absolutely is. I don't want to suggest that it's an illegitimate concern. But what I am suggesting is there are bigger demographic concerns and, frankly, economic concerns that trump, essentially, these nominal changes. We may or may not be prepared for dropping Title 42. But what we do know is this - the surge is already happening. So this concern about more and more people coming I think is probably a false argument, especially when so many people are now coming from Russia, from India, from countries that are not covered under Title 42, you know, by the thousands now.

And so whether Title 42 is lifted or not, this surge has already arrived. And the only way to address this is not to look at this, again, very narrowly, in terms of Title 42, but in a broader, more comprehensive way because the reason why Title 42 has become such a big issue is because we're not solving the underlying problem.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the politics here - that Republicans pound on this issue because they see benefit in firing up their political base. It's a thing that their base voters want. But as you know very well, Republicans also have worked very hard in recent years to appeal to the Latino vote. They've even had some limited success in limited places in the last couple of elections in appealing to a large chunk of the Latino vote. It's presumed that their immigration stance hurts them, but I wonder if maybe it does or doesn't. Is there a slice of the Latino vote that would actually be with the Republican base on this issue?

MADRID: Steve, that's an excellent question. It's a point I wanted to bring up because that is absolutely the case. What is happening is Latino voters - this rightward shift we have seen in 2020 that sustained in 2022 - is due in large part to concerns about the lack of border security. Most of those shifts were happening with Hispanic voters along border communities. And so yes, the Republican position is working with Hispanic voters. And the idea - this stereotype that all Latinos somehow are concerned about border security or not concerned about border security - support an open-borders policy - is false. I think this forces the Democrats' hand, and Republicans may be actually eking out a big win here or at least forcing a resolution to this policy debate.

INSKEEP: Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, pleasure talking with you.

MADRID: Thanks for having me, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.