Morning News Brief: Migrant Caravan

Apr 30, 2018
Originally published on April 30, 2018 8:24 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Early this month, President Trump wrote on Twitter about a so-called caravan of roughly 1,000 Central American migrants heading toward the United States.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, their progress toward the north has been tracked by the media, and yesterday, about 200 finally arrived at the U.S. border near San Diego. U.S. Customs officials told them to wait. They said that their facility was at capacity and could not immediately accept more asylum-seekers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us from Mexico to talk through this story.

Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So we said there were a thousand at the beginning, less now, so let's work through this. Who started out from Central America, exactly?

KAHN: They are almost all Central American, mostly from El Salvador and Honduras. And they say they're seeking refuge in the United States because of the lawlessness and violence in those countries at the hands of vicious gangs, and they tell stories of extortion, violence and death threats from the gangs there. Then many of the people from Honduras on top of that say they're also facing political repression from the controversial presidential elections there last November that were widely condemned as being fraudulent. And then there's also about two dozen transgender people traveling with the caravan from all over the region, including Mexico, and they say they're facing intense persecution due to their gender identity.

INSKEEP: OK, so different kinds of people, just about all from Central America, but only a couple hundred are trying to get into the United States. Who are they? And what happened to the rest of them?

KAHN: Well, at one point, the caravan was well over a thousand people. I think you and I talked when they were in Oaxaca and there was that many people. Many just decided to stay in Mexico and try and receive a refugee or asylum status here. That's also not an easy path. And they've begun criticizing Mexican officials who pledged to issue such humanitarian visas to them, which organizers of the caravan say have not been granted yet.

INSKEEP: OK. So some people are at least trying to stay in Mexico, but finding a challenge. Some people get to the border there just south of San Diego, and they're told, sorry, we're full. What does that actually mean - they'll never get in, or just not for a day or two?

KAHN: Well, we don't know. But they are - they told them yesterday that they couldn't get in, and so a lot of them spent the night right in front of the gate there at the check - at the border station, hoping to be first in line today. They said they're not going to be deterred.

INSKEEP: So the - what happens now? They just wait?

KAHN: Yes, that's what happens. The asylum process can take years to go through, and if U.S. officials deem that the migrants' claims aren't credible, they'll be deported back home. But that's their biggest fear many say they're facing - that they're facing by turning themselves in at the border station - that and being separated from their children. A large number of the 200 that are here in Tijuana waiting to ask for asylum are mothers with small children. But they say they're going to come back today and insist that U.S. officials there hear their claims.

INSKEEP: Carrie, this case has gotten so much attention. But very briefly, what is the actual broad flow of migrants toward the United States like these days? Is there an increase or decrease or what of people heading toward the U.S.?

KAHN: Definitely, it's on the rise. It dropped significantly - arrests at the Southwest border - after President Trump was inaugurated in January of 2017. But, you know, that number has been slowly on the rise again, and we're seeing what people are calling another crisis at the border.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks very much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: All right, last week ended with a summit between the leaders of North and South Korea. The two leaders agreed in general terms to work toward a formal end to their country's war and to remove nuclear weapons from the peninsula that they share.

GREENE: Yeah, this weekend, President Trump was talking about the summit to a crowd at a campaign rally in Michigan. He said that South Korean president Moon Jae-in was insisting that the U.S. deserves the credit for this meeting's success.

INSKEEP: And fans of President Trump also would say that he deserves credit, so let's talk that through with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Does President Trump deserve much credit for the developments so far?

LIASSON: Sure. And as you mentioned, his supporters certainly think he does. That crowd in Michigan was chanting, Nobel, Nobel - as in, the Nobel Peace Prize. But he has been ambitious and audacious. He threatened to destroy North Korea. He put a new set of tough sanctions on North Korea, and that certainly helped get Kim to the negotiating table. But we don't know if that was a bigger motivator for North Korea than the fact that they had completed a nuclear weapon that could hit the U.S. and got closer to their goal of being accepted as a nuclear power and decided that they were in a stronger position to get relief from sanctions. So we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I guess we should remember what North Korea wants is to get out from under sanctions. What the United States wants is for them to give up nuclear weapons, and we haven't heard a public statement. We've heard about private statements, but we haven't heard a public statement from the North Koreans that they're willing to go there, right?

LIASSON: No, and they haven't been in the past. And the new national security adviser, John Bolton, said that the president would insist that the North give up all its nuclear weapons, all its nuclear fuel and all its ballistic missiles before the U.S. makes any concessions. And anyone who's had experience with North Korea in the past say that's unlikely because President Trump, as soon as the North and South start talking about a treaty to end the war, he loses some leverage. He can't credibly threaten to destroy North Korea if they're making peace with South Korea. And those tough sanctions depend a lot on Chinese participation, and the Chinese might lose some enthusiasm for the sanctions if North Korea is behaving better.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Does...

LIASSON: So maybe Kim Jong Un has his own "Art Of The Deal" here.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So we don't know exactly what North Korea is doing, but you're saying it could be that North Korea is trying to act nice to get away with not giving up nuclear weapons.

LIASSON: Yes, and acting - and not just acting nice, actually maybe behaving better. You know, if you get a treaty that ends the Korean War, maybe they loosen some sanctions and they still get to keep their nuclear program. That seems to be their goal.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks, as always.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson this morning.

Now, before becoming secretary of state, Mike Pompeo secretly met with North Korea's leader in preparation for that expected possible Trump-Kim summit.

GREENE: Yeah, now that Pompeo has taken on his new role, his first trip is actually to the Middle East, and he's gone to Saudi Arabia. He's going to Israel and now to Jordan.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Jane Arraf has been following the trip from Cairo. She joins us now.

Hi there, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: So an active start for the new secretary of state - what's he saying as he travels?

ARRAF: Well, he's really focused on one major theme, and it's the idea that Iran is a major threat. In fact, destabilizing and malign is how he described its activities. And we've got to remember that's very much in line with President Trump's position that there should be new sanctions against Iran if they don't cooperate on a new nuclear deal. And here's Pompeo during the press conference with Israel's prime minister on just that subject.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MIKE POMPEO: President Trump's been pretty clear. This deal is very flawed. He's directed the administration to try and fix it. And if we can't fix it, he's going to withdraw from the deal.

INSKEEP: Referring to this nuclear deal. Right.

ARRAF: Absolutely. So that's great news, of course, with - for Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of his stops, and to a limited extent, to Jordan, as well.

INSKEEP: And I suppose there's also a difference in tone here - isn't there, right? - just simply the fact that Rex Tillerson, his predecessor, even though he did travel, was seen as being rather quiet, rather below-the-radar, didn't talk a lot in public, and Pompeo has been talking a lot these first few days.

ARRAF: That's absolutely right. He's also making clear that he is not his predecessor. So Rex Tillerson, of course, was a former oil executive, and Pompeo, as you mentioned - former CIA director and a former congressman. One of the Saudi papers called him decisive and bold, so he is signaling this is a new State Department, as far as he's concerned.

INSKEEP: Well, Jane, let me ask, when you stand with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, you of course have to think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is reaching a rather dramatic moment, isn't it?

ARRAF: It absolutely is. Dramatic would be pretty much an understatement. And that's one of the things that hasn't really come to the front of this. It's a bit overshadowed by Iran. But, of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that other main driver of instability in the region over years - decades, in fact.

INSKEEP: And let's figure this out here.

ARRAF: So the U.S., of course, is...

INSKEEP: The U.S. is moving its embassy - right? - to Jerusalem.

ARRAF: Yup, coming up in about two weeks. And the major problem with that in terms of some of the U.S. allies, primarily Jordan, is that pretty much blows up the traditional U.S. role as mediator.

INSKEEP: The traditional U.S. role as mediator...

ARRAF: So Pompeo visited Israel, but he...

INSKEEP: Oh, we've got a little bit of a delay on the line. Sorry for the confusion here. But let me just ask you very briefly - Pompeo has been saying, well, OK, we're moving the embassy, but that doesn't actually settle who gets what part of Jerusalem; we can still be an honest broker and try to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table. That's what Pompeo has said on this trip. Does it feel true from where you sit?

ARRAF: It certainly doesn't feel true in Jordan, and it doesn't feel true in Baghdad. And one of the things Pompeo also said this morning is - he was asked about Israel killing protesters at the border with Gaza, 42 of them. He said that the U.S. defends Israel's right to self-defense. So you take that with the embassy move, and there's going to be quite a lot of unrest over those statements.

INSKEEP: Jane, thanks very much, as always.

ARRAF: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOREST ON THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.