Sep 23, 2021 - Podcasts

Haitian migrants at the southern border

Thousands of Haitian migrants are living in a temporary encampment at the southern border in Del Rio, Texas. The Biden administration recently announced it was going to start deporting many of these people back to Haiti.

  • Plus, Airbnb’s hopes for housing Afghan refugees.
  • And, Democrats' plan to tax the rich.

Guests: U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Airbnb's Joe Gebbia, Axios' Stef Kight and Mike Allen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, September 23rd. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Democrats plan to tax the rich. Plus, AirBnB’s hopes of housing Afghan refugees. But first, Haitian migrants at the southern border is today’s One Big Thing.

Thousands of Haitian migrants are living in a temporary encampment under the Del Rio International Bridge at the Southern border in Texas. A lot has happened this week, since the Biden administration announced it would start deporting many of these people back to Haiti. Axios politics reporter Stef Kight has what we need to know right now -- Hi Stef.

STEF KIGHT: Good morning.

NIALA: Let's start with the numbers - How many people have been deported back to Haiti?

STEF KIGHT: As of the end of Tuesday, there were around 1,100 Haitians who had arrived in Haiti who had been deported by the U.S., and that number is obviously going to change very quickly. Administration has said that they are upping the number of flights that they're sending out each day. So we're going to see that number continue to rise.

NIALA: And do we know how many are still in Del Rio?

STEF: I actually spoke with Congressman Gonzales whose district includes Del Rio and as of Wednesday afternoon, there were around 5,700 migrants who are still under the bridge, most of those have been Haitians.

NIALA: Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. was letting some people go instead of deporting them. What do we know about who's being released into the U.S.?

STEF: We don't have a lot of information about who is being released at this point. It is something that I've heard from other sources that Haitians are being released. And I think, you know, it makes sense that they're not going to be able to deport everyone in a timely fashion, that they're going to have to release some people into communities like they have been doing for some Central American migrants, but the administration has been pretty clear that their goal is to deport as many Haitians as possible where they're not, you know, qualified to stay in the U.S., where they don't qualify for asylum or other pathways. But this is all moving really quickly and so we'll have to wait and see whether they start to create more reasons for Haitians to be able to stay who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

NIALA: President Biden is using a Trump-era rule, Title 42, to deport migrants. Can you explain how he's doing that and what the White House has said about his strategy here?

STEF: So Title 42, as you mentioned, is a Trump-era policy that was put in place because of the pandemic. It cites the pandemic as a reason to turn back migrants who crossed the border quickly, without allowing them to apply for asylum. And the Biden administration has controversially continued using this policy saying that, you know, they need it because the coronavirus continues to be an issue.

NIALA: Stef, as you said, the story is moving really fast. What are you watching for now?

STEF: One thing that I'm watching is whether we see future waves of Haitians who continue to come to the U.S.-Mexico border. There has been reporting, and I've heard from sources, that the administration is watching already groups of tens of thousands of patients who are in Panama and other countries in the region who could be headed north. So we'll have to wait and see whether this is just an initial group of Haitians and we're able to kind of find a solution.

NIALA: Axios political reporter Stef Kight. Thanks, Stef.

STEF: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with news about another group of immigrants: Afghan refugees, and one plan to provide shelter for those coming to the U.S.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. We just spoke with Axios’ political reporter, Stef Kight, about the thousands of Haitian migrants who are trying to come into the U.S. Well, today, Airbnb announced it will provide temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees.

JOE GEBBIA: And that same heart and the same generosity that has allowed people to open their homes in the first place, can be extended to people in time of need.

NIALA: That's Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia -- who spoke, along with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to Axios co-founder Mike Allen, who's with me now. Hey, Mike.

MIKE ALLEN: Niala, welcome back.

NIALA: Thank you. Mike, how exactly is Airbnb doing this?

MIKE: So Airbnb is going to be subsidizing stays from a couple of days to a couple of weeks for our new neighbors who are coming in from Afghanistan. In some cases, the hosts are going to host them free, and in some cases, Airbnb will pay, but they're making it possible for up to 40,000 Afghan refugees to stay in their communities.

NIALA: Airbnb is working with resettlement agencies to make this work, and here’s what Airbnb co founder Joe Gebbia said when you spoke to him, Mike:

JOE GEBBIA: They do the screening and the vetting of refugee families as they come in. They assess their needs so that, by the time they get to the platform, they can find the right home and the right location for the needs of that family.

NIALA: What's your assessment of how this effort is going here?

MIKE: Well, Niala, this is an example of how companies, increasingly, are talking more, thinking more, acting more on the big picture. And we're going to see this from more and more companies because young workers are demanding it.

NIALA: And can I ask you about the bigger picture when it comes to supporting Afghan refugees? Because I imagine this is a pretty tiny piece of the puzzle.

MIKE: Niala, you're right. At least 37,000 refugees in one wave coming to the United States, and ripple effects, of course, around the world from the fall of the Afghan government. Just the other night, I was at an event for the American University of Afghanistan. Some of the students who are in Afghanistan and fear the Taliban are still doing their lessons, but they've been told to erase the lesson after they're done from their device. These are some of the ways that the world has changed.

NIALA: Axios co-founder Mike Allen. Thank you, Mike.

MIKE: Niala, thank you for the conversation.

NIALA: President Joe Biden met yesterday with top Democrats, as negotiations continue on the Hill over infrastructure and budget. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, has been a key voice behind the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, and how to pay for its climate investments and social programs...including through taxes on America's wealthiest. I spoke to Senator Wyden yesterday for an Axios Event and asked him what average Americans need to understand about this:

RON WYDEN: What I want them to know as they follow this discussion is that I think moderates have a very valid point with respect to how government does its business. It ought to pay for things that we really care about. I also think when we talk about paying for these investments, whether it's paid leave or childcare or, um, home and community-based services, we ought to say everybody should pay their fair share. And that's why I hope that they'll take away from this discussion. Then I said, look, I'm on to how billionaires are getting out of paying any income taxes or not much, they're not taking a wage, but on my watch, is chairman of the finance committee. Everybody is going to pay their fair share, and that means billionaires.

NIALA: You can hear the rest of my conversation with Senator Wyden later this afternoon - where we also spoke in detail about climate infrastructure at a free Axios event - I’ll tweet the link out, and it will also be in our show notes.

And one last headline before we go today: the FDA yesterday approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID booster shot for people 65 and older, and those at high risk for severe COVID-19. We’ll keep you posted on boosters...but that brings us now to another pandemic topic the Axios Today team has been hearing about. Service industry workers -- especially people working in restaurants -- have been telling us that customer behavior is hitting a new low. Requests to show vaccine cards or wear masks - which are usually following local laws - are being met with anger and sometimes violence. And it’s got us thinking -- how widespread is this phenomenon? Are we hitting another pandemic wall, where exhaustion and fear is really getting to people? If you work in a customer-facing role, whether behind a bar or at a ticket counter...we want to know: how is it going? What is it like working, right now? You can record a brief voice memo and text it to me at (202) 918-4893.

That’s all for us today. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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