May 11, 2023 - Podcasts

The end of Title 42 at the U.S.-Mexico border

Title 42, the pandemic-era immigration policy that made it easier for authorities to turn people away at the U.S.-Mexico border, is set to expire today.

  • Plus, U.S. Representative George Santos is charged with fraud, money laundering and more
  • FDA advisors endorse over-the-counter birth control pills.
  • And, a project to bring descendants of enslaved people closer to their ancestors.

Guests: Axios' Stef Kight, and "Descendant" co-writer and producer Dr. Kern Jackson.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Robin Linn 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, May 11th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Today on the show: U.S. Representative George Santos is charged with fraud, money laundering and more. Plus, FDA advisors endorse over-the-counter birth control pills. But first, what the end of Title 42 looks like at the Southern border. That’s our One Big Thing.

The end of Title 42 at the U.S.-Mexico border

NIALA: Title 42, the pandemic-era immigration policy that made it easier for authorities to turn people away at the border, is set to expire today. Thousands of migrants have been camped out on both sides of the southern border, and several U.S. cities have declared states of emergency. Axios’ Stef Kight is reporting on the ground and joins us now from El Paso. Hi Stef.


NIALA: Steph, what's it like at the border right now?

STEF: There are certainly a large number of migrants and asylum seekers who are coming across the border from Ciuadad Juarez into El Paso. I spent some time yesterday along the border, and in two sections in particular where there have been large groups of migrants gathering on the Mexico side of the border fence. As of early Wednesday morning, a border patrol official told me they had about 700 migrants kind of camping out there, just in those two sections. And essentially throughout the day, border patrol is picking up these migrants and people and taking them to the border patrol facilities to process, and there's just an ongoing flow, right now, and already border patrol facilities are at, or beyond, capacity, as it stands.

NIALA: So Stef, what does the end of Title 42 mean for people who are trying to come into the U.S.?

STEF: You know, it's really a complex reality. In some ways, you know, Title 42 has prevented people from seeking asylum and forced them back quickly. But it also has enabled people to try multiple times. And one thing that's important to remember is that as we transition back to Title 8, is what it's called, the normal mechanisms at the border for deporting people. Once people are deported, it comes with much stronger penalties, and they have a five year ban on re-entry. So once the rule is implemented, it will require migrants to apply for asylum through legal means, whether it's setting up an appointment through a new app that the Biden administration has been touting. Or whether it's accessing the parole processes that have been in place since early January. But migrants who illegally cross the border under this new policy could face automatic rejection from asylum. However, generally, once someone is picked up by border patrol, they have the opportunity to claim, um, fear of return to their home country and begin that asylum process.

NIALA: Stef, are people at the border who are trying to come across aware of all of this?

STEF: Some seem to be, and it is one reason why, you know, some people say we've seen the large numbers coming across already. There's some who feel like they will have a better chance after Title 42 falls, and others who are nervous about what could come after Title 42, especially with this asylum rule that the Biden administration finalized yesterday, which would have some pretty severe restrictions on asylum.

NIALA: Steph, we mentioned at the beginning that several cities have declared states of emergency around this. What does this look like in El Paso?

STEF: In El Paso, over the past couple weeks, there have been large groups of migrants who have evaded border patrol and have been setting up camps at various sites in the city. For example, there's one church, Sacred Heart Church, where there have been, you know, hundreds of migrants kind of camping out there, who did not have their documents. There was a law enforcement action that took place there. And as of yesterday, that area had cleared up. But there still continued to be, you know, hundreds of migrants in this city, kind of waiting for that next step in their process.

NIALA: What are you watching for over the coming days, Stef?

STEF: I'm most watching how this new asylum rule is going to play out and whether the restrictions are implemented harshly, whether we do see large numbers of people who are rejected from asylum and quickly deported, or whether we end up seeing just the logistical realities change the way that rule can be impacted, ‘cause at the end of the day, if border patrol is overwhelmed and they have to release people, they have to release people. And so those are kind of the two dynamics I'm watching most closely.

NIALA: Stef Kight is a politics reporter at Axios with a focus on immigration. Thanks, Stef.

STEF: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: Stef Kight is a politics reporter at Axios with a focus on immigration.Thanks, Stef.

Rep. George Santos charged with fraud. And FDA advisors endorse over-the-counter birth control.

NIALA: Here are some other headlines we’ve been following. New York Rep. George Santos pleaded not guilty yesterday to 13 federal charges, including seven counts of wire fraud, three of money laundering, two of lying to Congress and one of theft of public funds.

Santos surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. He was later released on a $500,000 bond. Here he is speaking to reporters outside of his arraignment yesterday.

GEORGE SANTOS: Now I'm gonna have to go and fight to defend myself. The reality is, it's a witch hunt.

NIALA: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Danielle Hass told Axios, Santos is scheduled to appear in court on June 30th.

And, an FDA advisory panel yesterday unanimously endorsed making the daily birth control Opill available over-the-counter. If it’s approved this will be the first time ever that a birth control pill would be offered over-the-counter. The Opill maker, HRA Pharma which is part of Perrigo, says they expect a final decision from the FDA to come at some point this summer. Murray Kessler, Perrigo's president, called Wednesday’s vote a “groundbreaking chapter in reproductive health.”

In a moment: helping descendants of the last known slave ship find their roots.

Descendants of the last known slave ship Clotilda

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo. Last week on the show we talked about the high number of Asian Americans who feel like they don't fully belong in the U.S. Well, that same survey says Black Americans are a close second in not feeling that sense of belonging.

A new project is tackling a piece of that. It links the descendants of some enslaved people with their ancestors who were aboard the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to bring captives to the U.S. in 1860.

That ship and its impact on an area called AfricaTown near Mobile, Alabama is the subject of a Netflix documentary called Descendant that came out last year.

Dr. Kern Jackson is the film’s co-writer and producer and the director of African American Studies at the University of South Alabama. Hi, Dr. Jackson.

KERN JACKSON: How are you?

NIALA: Can we start with the Clotilda? Can you explain why this is such a historically significant ship in American history?

KERN: There are very few ships of enslavement that have been found intact off the shores of the United States. There are places in Costa Rica and Mozambique where enslaved people have journeyed to, uh, that they have found partial shipwrecks. But this is the first in, uh, U.S. waters.

NIALA: What did it mean for the descendants of Africa Town to find that ship a few years ago?

KERN: Well, I think it meant several things, and not just for the people who were descendants. Those 110, although they were dispersed all over the state, about 32 of them did settle in the immediate area, and it's really important because, you know, this is America's original sin of slavery, and it's very painful. But it's a part of our modern society. It's a part of our current systems and our beliefs, and the fact that these people have known the general area where their people come from has been very important.

NIALA: As a folklorist, how important is it, do you think, for people to have their story of their family?

KERN: It's extremely important. It's about not only you search for your history, it's about your identity and, and in, in our democracy. It's about justice, the opportunity to talk about enslavement, like what is truth and what does reconciliation look like. So, you know, I named the film, and one of the reasons why it's called – one word – “Descendant” is because all of these folks who are fortunate to know where they come from, stand instead for many of the rest of us. For those of us who do not know our African ancestry, we can put our energy into the descendants who know they came from certain places in, in Ghana and Togo and Benin in Nigeria, uh, and to, to trace those kinship groups, not unlike what the movie Roots did for for Black America in the seventies, right? So this is a part of a continuum, if you will.

NIALA: So the ship was discovered and confirmed a few years ago. Currently the quest is to get preserved DNA evidence from the ship. Can you tell us more about that?

KERN: The hope is that we're gonna find out there are more descendants than just the ones that you can trace by name. You're gonna find out that the descendancy transcends how people perceive race, you're gonna find out the people, the descendants, who might not look like you would think a descendant looked like. By the same token, you're gonna have folks who didn't think that they were connected to the Clotilda story, who are of African descent, finding out that they are. But in terms of the genealogical record, uh, it's, this is just like, um, manna from heaven having ship manifest, having the size of the ship, having the ship intact, having the record of where the ship sailed to knowing who the intermediaries were on the western coast of Africa. Those are all things that are incredibly fantastic, not only for Clotilda African descendants, but all of us who are descendants of Africa.

NIALA: Dr. Kern Jackson is a folklorist and director of African American Studies at the University of South Alabama, and co-director of Descendant, the documentary that's on Netflix now. Thanks, Dr. Jackson.

KERN: Thank you very kindly.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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