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The mayor of Las Cruces, N.M., on how the expiration of Title 42 will impact the city

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Much of the attention after the expiration of Title 42 has focused on Texas and El Paso. But the southern border is vast. And today we turn to another community, Las Cruces, N.M. It's at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rio Grande, about 40 miles from El Paso. We're joined now by the mayor of Las Cruces, Ken Miyagishima.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us.

KEN MIYAGISHIMA: Well, thank you, Scott. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How do migrants make their way to Las Cruces?

MIYAGISHIMA: Well, we've actually had a few that have walked, but a lot of times, they may catch a ride with individuals that probably shouldn't be bringing them over. For the most part, they kind of stay put in the El Paso area. However, they do seem to find their way through the desert and come in from other parts of New Mexico. So, I mean, it's pretty vast out there. It's really a rough terrain.

SIMON: Yeah. Are you making preparations for more people?

MIYAGISHIMA: No. So far it's been actually pretty smooth. We've had a report that they have about 6,164 in detention. And so what they're doing is they're trying to do a thousand migrants - or process them - a day. Now, the majority of them are not going to qualify for the asylum. See, that's the difference between Title 8 and Title 42. So Title 8, which is now on, it switches to, OK, you need to give the - you need to give so much background for you to even be considered for asylum. And only 5 or to 10% will make it. The others will be turned back.

SIMON: What role has migrant or asylum seeker resettlement played in your city over the past few years? 'Cause I gather you're in your fourth term.

MIYAGISHIMA: Yes, sir. Right. When you add the six other years as a city councilor and the eight years before that as a county commissioner, I'll complete 30 years in public office. You know, we're used to people seeking asylum. And our faith-based organizations do a great job. However, they're used to dealing with maybe five a month, one a week. And so in 2019, when the government was dropping off 150 or so a day, that's where we had to really scramble because we knew the process. We just didn't have that capacity and the ability to handle that many. And so it was a fast learning curve.

SIMON: Yeah. You and the city council passed a resolution that called for federal immigration reform. What would you like to see?

MIYAGISHIMA: Well, one of the things is to be able to have a little bit more consistency. So if you were to take someone who wanted a legal residency from Nepal, they could get it pretty quick because the government allots probably 2,000 people from Nepal. Well, probably only a handful seek that. But then when you're talking, say, Mexico, there's only so many that they allot. And when that number hits, then it reverts back to the system of waiting for five, six, seven years. I think that really both parties are to blame. There's been times where one particular party had everything - the House, the Senate and the White House - and they still couldn't get it done. So it's going to be a challenge.

SIMON: May I ask about your family? I understand your family knows immigration in a direct and personal way.

MIYAGISHIMA: Oh, sure. So on my paternal side, my dad's side, my grandfather emigrated from Japan in the 1920s. And then on my maternal side, my mom's side, probably around the same time, they immigrated from Mexico. And so I'm a product of migrants, immigrants as well. I was born in Mississippi, so there's probably not too many half-Asian, half-Hispanics born in Mississippi. But my dad was in the military, and that's how I was born at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss.

SIMON: What would you like people living far north of the border to know?

MIYAGISHIMA: Well, I've heard people think that they take jobs away from Americans, and the jobs that immigrants will take are the jobs that, frankly, a lot of people don't want to do. And so they keep businesses going. You know, once they get that, what they call, ITIN number, which is a tax ID number for immigrants. That's why I'm a big supporter of having immigration judges brought down here to the border so that those who do qualify the 5 or 10%, that they could be given that ITIN number so that they could start working because then they can start providing for their families to send money back home. They can pay taxes. And they can probably contribute to a system that they may never even end up using.

SIMON: The mayor of Las Cruces, N.M., Ken Miyagishima.

Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Mayor.

MIYAGISHIMA: Absolutely. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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