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Texas authorities wait to enforce immigration law that's tied up in the courts

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas law enforcement officers have to wait before using a new state law. Courts have again blocked this law that would allow state officials to detain and deport people that they suspect of entering the country illegally. That would usually be a job for federal law enforcement. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is watching all of this. He is a Democrat, although his position in the lovely city of San Antonio is a nonpartisan job. Mayor, welcome to the program.

RON NIRENBERG: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Does this law sound like a good idea to you?

NIRENBERG: It doesn't sound like a good idea. There are some good ideas to help with the situation at the border and the migration challenges, but this is not one of them. In fact, this is just another in a series of steps that partisan state legislators in Texas have taken to advance their corrosive rhetorical battle they've been fighting and really creates challenges for local law enforcement. It doesn't help anything at all.

INSKEEP: Although, is there a case to be made that Texas could deter people from arriving, at least through Texas, by saying, it's going to be difficult for you here - a police officer might be looking for you on any corner?

NIRENBERG: You know, if you talk to the migrants who come through our cities and come through the border - and first of all, coming through and ending in - not ending, but coming through San Antonio through legal auspices of the asylum process, you know, many of them have traveled by foot thousands of miles through great personal danger. To suggest that these kinds of confusing pieces of legislation that really challenge local law enforcement more than anything else would be a deterrent is kind of ridiculous on its face.

What can be done, though, is for legislators to recognize that real solutions have been hammered out by groups of good-faith, bipartisan legislators in Congress - where that jurisdiction actually lies - and help us work towards solutions that we know will work. But instead, this is the game that Governor Abbott and his ilk in the state legislature have started to play for several sessions now, and this is another step in that direction.

INSKEEP: You know, Mayor, you make an interesting point. I've been looking at this thing that you've got called the Migrant Dashboard. It just shows the number of people arriving at the bus station or the airport or a migrant arrival center in your city each day - hundreds of people each day, by the way. I think you're telling me that we should not assume those people are all here illegally and that many of them are asylum-seekers, meaning they asked for asylum at the border. They've been released until some kind of court hearing, and their status is unclear, but they're effectively here with permission. Is that what you're saying?

NIRENBERG: That's correct. In fact, that is the entirety of our operation here in San Antonio, which is, you know, roughly 150 miles from the border. We've had 600,000 migrants through San Antonio since January 2023. And that's not different. You know, the numbers ebb and flow over the years. They happen through multiple administrations. But people are here because the law allows. And, you know, one may argue with the asylum statute. One may argue with the way it's been used. But Congress has a real opportunity to take a look at that, and the speaker has not even allowed for a fair debate. So the idea that this is the solution to our border challenges is ridiculous when there are real solutions, again, that have been hammered out by good-faith, bipartisan legislators who want to solve this issue, not demagogue it.

INSKEEP: Did you say 600,000 people have passed through San Antonio in the last year or more?

NIRENBERG: Well, it's roughly two years - since January...

INSKEEP: A couple years.

NIRENBERG: ... 2023. But - I'm sorry, January 2021.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK.

NIRENBERG: Yeah, I apologize for that. But the point is, Steve, this is not something that San Antonio local officials, local law enforcement or anyone else can, you know - determines. Immigration and the reasons people cross the border are federal jurisdiction. And, you know, while we can't control who comes across the border or who comes through San Antonio, we can manage it in a way that maintains order and protects public safety and treats people with common humanity and dignity, which we've been able to do in San Antonio with federal cooperation in lieu of congressional action on immigration reform, which, frankly, we've been waiting for for 40 years. But this is not a solution.

INSKEEP: Well, then, given all that, we've just got about 20 or 30 seconds left here, but I'm curious if you feel that that level of migration through your city most people go on has, in any way, been a detriment to the city or a threat to the city?

NIRENBERG: It has not been a threat. It is not been a detriment. We are a city of immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. It has been a challenge. And with cooperation from DHS and the White House, we've been able to manage that challenge. And if people want to deal with the issue in a comprehensive way, immigration reform at the federal government is the way to do it.

INSKEEP: Ron Nirenberg is the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Mayor, thanks so much.

NIRENBERG: Thanks so much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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