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Border & Immigration Update: Vice President Kamala Harris Visits U.S.-Mexico Border

Kamala Harris.
Evan Vucci
Associated Press
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during an event to mark the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington.

Here’s a rundown of border and immigration news from Texas and beyond. Look out for a weekly recap featuring reporting from NPR and Texas’ public radio stations.

Harris Tours El Paso Migrant Processing Center, Meets With Advocates In 1st Border Trip

Vice President Kamala Harris got a first-hand look at conditions on the Texas-Mexico border during a visit to El Paso Friday, where she toured a migrant processing center and met with immigrant advocates. As KTEP reports, the trip also comes amid criticism from Republicans over the Biden administration’s handling of what they call a border “crisis.”

The vice president toured the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center, where she spoke with El Paso Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez and several other agents. She also met with five migrant girls ages 9-16.

Later, during a press briefing before a roundtable discussion with advocates, Harris said that the Biden administration “inherited a tough situation,” and noted that the pilot program for child separation under the Trump administration began in El Paso.

“Our administration, it is important to be clear, is working to build a fair and a functional and a humane immigration system,” Harris said. “We feel very strongly about that.”

Read the full story from KTEP.

Families Separated By U.S.-Mexico Border Briefly Embrace In The Middle Of The Rio Grande

On Saturday, the El Paso-based non-profit Border Network for Human Rights held its 8th annual “Hugs Not Walls event,” which allows families separated by the border and immigration status to briefly reunite in the middle of the Rio Grande.

Around 200 families participated in this year’s event, which was timed to coincide with the now-federal holiday Juneteenth.

As KERA News reported, the event is both a chance for separated families to reunite and an act of protest against the policies keeping those families apart.

Family Of Afghan Interpreter Killed By The Taliban Talks U.S. Arrival And What’s Next

In January 2021, an Afghan interpreter was murdered shortly after he was notified that his family's visa to the U.S. received initial approval.

That interpreter — referred to by his middle name, “Mohammad,” to protect his family’s safety — was supposed to have access to what’s called a Special Immigrant Visa, created to protect translators who were essential to U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing crucial cultural and geographic understanding. He served 12 years in combat.

But even after those qualifying workers continue to put their lives on the line, they face years-long delays for access to such visas, and life-threatening conditions overseas.

Thanks to an emergency “humanitarian parole” spurred by advocates, Mohammad’s wife and children were allowed to come to the U.S..

They arrived in Houston earlier this month, and recently sat down with Houston Public Media to talk about the dangers they faced over the last 10 years, the bittersweet relief of finally living in the U.S. and what’s next for the family in a new country.

New ACLU Report Reveals Dozens Of Hunger Strikes, Retaliation At Texas ICE Facilities

A new nationwide report found a pattern of hunger strikes and, in several cases, retaliation against detained strikers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in Texas and other states.

The report, from the ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights, revealed that staff at ICE facilities have used forced feeding, detainee transfers, deportation and isolation to end hunger strikes.

The incidents took place between September 2013 and September 2017, according to thousands of pages of information obtained by the ACLU through Freedom Of Information Act Requests.

Read the full story from Houston Public Media.

Asylum Seekers Whose Cases Were Closed Under ‘Remain In Mexico’ Receive Another Chance At Protection

Thousands of migrants who were forced to wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexico under the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program will get a second chance to request asylum.

The Biden administration already started unwinding the controversial program earlier this year, allowing migrants with active court cases to enter the U.S.

On Tuesday, officials announced that asylum seekers whose cases were terminated or closed after they missed a court hearing will also be allowed to enter the country and restart proceedings.

Advocates pushed for this second phase of the wind-down, arguing that many asylum seekers missed hearings because of dangerous conditions in northern Mexico. Some were kidnapped before their court dates.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Migrant Children Endure ‘Despair And Isolation’ Inside El Paso Emergency Shelter

Migrant children and teenagers held by the U.S. government at an emergency tent shelter in El Paso are experiencing significant distress, CBS News reported.

“The level of distress among migrant boys and girls….has become so alarming that they are constantly monitored for incidents of self-harm, panic attacks and escape attempts,” according to people who worked at the federal site.

As of Tuesday, the emergency site at the Fort Bliss U.S. Army base was holding about 1,600 migrant children and teens waiting to be reunited with family or other sponsors, though the complex can house up to 10,000.

The outlet found that “more than 100 children had been housed at Fort Bliss for 60 days or longer as of earlier this month. Sixteen boys had been at the site since it opened on March 30, 2021.”

Read the full CBS News story here.

Midland County Facility For Young Migrants Set To Close By June 30

Since mid-March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has housed hundreds of young migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border at a facility just outside the City of Midland.

Now, because of a drop in the number of migrant children and teenagers needing shelter and available capacity at other facilities, HHS officials say the Midland shelter is no longer needed and will close by June 30, Marfa Public Radio reports.

Gov. Abbott Calls For Texas Jailers To Help With His Border Plans

Gov. Greg Abbott is calling on Texas jailers to assist border sheriffs with operating detention facilities and providing jail beds “for those arrested for state charges related to the border crisis.”

Abbott issued the statewide request on Friday, one day after lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas advised dozens of county judges and sheriffs against participating in the governor’s “unilateral efforts to set federal immigration policy.”

For months, Abbott has been ramping up his efforts to deter border crossings. In March, he launched Operation Lone Star, deploying Texas State Troopers and National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last month, he declared a state of disaster in 34 counties on or near the border, citing the recent rise in migration.

Abbott later announced plans to build a border wall and arrest migrants who cross the border unlawfully, and recently ordered the State Department of Criminal Justice to move people who were incarcerated at a south Texas state prison in order to make space for migrants.

On Thursday, lawyers with the ACLU sent letters to county judges and sheriffs in the districts under Abbott’s disaster order, advising them not to enforce the governor’s border plans.

“Under the U.S. Constitution, it is unlawful for state or local law enforcement officers to arrest or detain immigrants due to their immigration status or in an effort to enforce immigration laws or alter immigration policy,” the letter states.

“Such actions will prevent immigrants from exercising their right to seek protection in the United States and will likely increase the use of racial profiling.”

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Mallory Falk covers El Paso and the border for KERA as part of The Texas Newsroom, a regional news hub linking stations across the state. She is part of the national Report for America program, which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.