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FEMA Asked To Help With Migrant Surge, GOP Lawmakers To Visit Border

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Biden administration is asking FEMA to help with a surge of migrants, including many children traveling alone who have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Some congressional Republicans will travel to the border today. They blame Biden's policies for the surge, though we don't really know if that's the case or to what degree. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is following this story. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What will FEMA be doing?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, for the next 90 days, FEMA is going to go and help with these unaccompanied minors, and that's pretty much a clear recognition by the Biden administration of the severity of this emergency. You know, a record number of unaccompanied minors are stuck in basically these jail-like facilities on the border. They're supposed to be moved quickly to more appropriate shelters run by Health and Human Services. But they're arriving so fast that the Biden administration hasn't been able to keep up to process them and find them beds. So FEMA is going to try to help.

KING: And this group of Republicans traveling to the border today - what is the point that they're trying to make?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the Biden administration says what it's trying to do is undo the cruel policies of the Trump administration. But Republicans are trying to use this opportunity to paint Biden as not taking this crisis seriously. And House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is going to lead a delegation to the border to kind of highlight that issue. He spoke about the trip at the U.S. Capitol last week.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Next week, we'll be traveling to the border - myself with 12 other members - to see firsthand, to come back with solutions, to make sure our border is secure but to make sure we can end this crisis that Biden has created.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, the White House acknowledges some responsibility for the timing. You know, their challenge is trying to balance a humanitarian effort while also messaging for migrants not to come. But I do want to be clear that these surges appear to be cyclical. There was one in 2014 under President Obama, and there was another in 2018, '19 under President Trump. So migrants are still coming despite - or were coming - despite Trump's very harsh policies.

KING: And these surges, as you say, are cyclical. So is the attempt by Democrats to reform immigration laws. How will this affect that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, well, Republicans are looking to distract from Democrats, who plan to take up legislation this week to protect DREAMers, farmworkers and other immigrants with temporary protections. And there is some urgency involving DREAMers in particular. These are - this is the group of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. There's a legal decision coming, likely very soon, from Texas that many believe could upend this whole debate and really put a fire under the seat of President Biden and Congress to find a way to protect this very sympathetic group. People working on the issue, like Todd Schulte - he's president of FWD.us, an advocacy group for immigrants - are trying to sound the alarm that the Biden administration and Congress need to act with more urgency.

TODD SCHULTE: But ultimately, we have a federal judge in Texas who is going to say DACA is illegal, and we have a 6-3 Supreme Court. I don't think we have fully internalized as a country what that means.

ORDOÑEZ: And I can tell you what he means. He means that people shouldn't expect the Supreme Court to protect the DREAMers.

KING: How is the Biden administration going to pivot? It wanted comprehensive overhaul. If that - if this Supreme Court decision comes down and it's a negative decision, what does the Biden administration do then?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, what - the Biden administration is pushing for this comprehensive overhaul. But what quickly became clear was how difficult it'd be to pass a package that does all the things he wants. So House is trying a different strategy, a piecemeal approach, starting with bills that have a better chance of passing.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.