Surge in asylum-seeking migrants, Sen. Menendez won't resign, Lahaina: 5 Things podcast

On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast: El Paso Times and USA TODAY Border Reporter Lauren Villagran puts a recent migrant surge in context, as lawmakers squabble over solutions. Sen. Bob Menendez says he won't resign amid serious bribery and extortion charges. Could he be expelled from the Senate? Some Lahaina residents return home, weeks after a devastating wildfire. Florida's coastal homes may lose value as climate-fueled storms intensify insurance risk. Fat Bear Week is almost here.

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I'm Taylor Wilson, and this is 5 Things you need to know, Tuesday the 26th of September 2023.

Today, we head to the border and take a look at this latest surge in migrants. Plus, what might fellow lawmakers do if Senator Bob Menendez keeps refusing to resign? And residents begin returning home to Lahaina.

A surge of migrants has pushed for the southern border in recent months as people flee desperate situations in Venezuela and elsewhere. I caught up with El Paso Times and USA Today Border Reporter, Lauren Villagran to put this moment in context. Lauren, thanks for hopping on the podcast.

Lauren Villagran:

Yeah. Thanks, Taylor, for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

Starting here, how serious has this surge in migrants gotten in recent weeks?

Lauren Villagran:

Yeah. Well, here in El Paso and along the Texas border, we are seeing thousands of people arrive each day. In El Paso, there have periodically been large groups numbering several hundred or a couple of thousand waiting at the border fence in hopes of being processed by Border Patrol, whether that's for an asylum claim or some other relief. And this was an issue that we saw play out very similarly last year and again in the days that led up to the end of Title 42. And for a while during the summer, it really got quiet as migrants shifted over to some of the legal pathways the Biden administration opened in the wake of the end of Title 42 expulsions.

But some of those pathways became very crowded very quickly, and that's led desperate people to take desperate measures, like crossing the Rio Grande and squeezing through reams of concertina wire laid by Texas Governor Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star, to wait again under a hot sun without food or water in hopes of making a claim at the fence line.

Taylor Wilson:

Lauren, we know migrants come from everywhere, but at this point, where are migrants mostly coming from and why is this search happening now?

Lauren Villagran:

It's important to note that every day US Customs and Border Protection continues to process people through the lawful pathways that the Biden administration set up. So, I was on the bridge recently to watch this process. It takes place twice a day in El Paso, where folks seek an appointment online, wait for that appointment, and then show up to request entrance into the country. And those folks are coming from everywhere. There are people from Mexico, from Central America, from South America, but we're also seeing a really significant group of, as we saw last year, Venezuelan migrants.

As you know, Taylor, and many of the listeners know, Venezuela is experiencing almost a total economic collapse. I met a woman who worked for the government recently. She was a forensic investigator earning $6 a month working for her government in her country. And I said, "Well, is that enough to live on?" I felt ridiculous saying that. And she said, "Well, no, a chicken costs $15." So people are fleeing a very desperate situation. We've seen countries like Peru and Colombia step in to support the arrival of millions of Venezuelan migrants, but many have continued northward.

Taylor Wilson:

You've talked a lot about El Paso, where you're based, Lauren. What pressure is this putting on other US cities, especially even some far away from the border?

Lauren Villagran:

Yeah. Well, one of the things that we've seen the shelter director, Ruben Garcia, of the Annunciation House here in El Paso call for is for cities throughout the United States to take in migrants and migrant families. But one of the things that's been especially difficult in these last few iterations of humanitarian crises is that people often don't have sponsors, meaning they don't have anywhere to go. They also may have almost no resources. And what's worse is that even if they make a claim for asylum, whether that claim turns out to be legitimate or not, they're often not allowed to work as they pursue relief in the US Immigration Relief in the US. And so that really ties the hands of cities like New York or Chicago where there may be plenty of open jobs, but the newcomers who are landing in those cities don't have legal work authorization.

Now, we know the Biden administration has just extended temporary protected status to nearly half a million Venezuelans already in the country who arrived before the end of July this year. And so that should really, I imagine, alleviate some of those financial constraints that are taxing the resources of these other cities. But those who are arriving right now are not going to get that, at least not immediately.

Taylor Wilson:

Yeah. Lauren, you mentioned that temporary status announced last week. What else is coming out of the Biden administration on this, and what do critics say about current White House migrant policy?

Lauren Villagran:

Well, yeah, I mean, we know that they've struck a deal with Mexico to accept migrants under expedited removal. We know Mexico has announced in recent days that it's going to begin a crackdown and begin deporting people. It's something the US cannot do because we do not have a diplomatic relationship with Venezuela. Now, Mexico does. So I think it remains to be seen in the coming days whether Mexico does fulfill its promise to deport more people. We've got countries throughout the hemisphere, Taylor, that are struggling with these elevated flows of people who are trying to find a new and better life.

Taylor Wilson:

Lauren Villagran covers the border and immigration for the El Paso Times and USA Today. Thanks so much.

Lauren Villagran:

Thanks, Taylor.

Taylor Wilson:

Senator Bob Menendez is refusing to resign. That's despite calls from others in the Senate that he step down as he faces serious bribery and extortion charges, including allegations that he provided highly sensitive information to the government of Egypt. During a press conference yesterday, he denied the accusations laid out in a federal indictment unsealed last week. But with a primary election nine months away and a trial expected to drag on longer than that, might fellow Democrats explore alternatives to remove Menendez from his seat?

A US Senator cannot be impeached, but expulsion requiring a two third super majority vote is possible. The Constitution doesn't outline specific grounds needed for expulsion, but 15 senators have been expelled over the years. It's not clear whether the Senate would consider recommending Menendez for expulsion. And voters cannot have a direct say. The Constitution doesn't include the power for constituents to recall a member of the US Congress. You can read more with a link in today's show notes.

Parts of Lahaina are reopening. Residents of the Hawaiian community devastated by wildfire last month will be officially allowed to return to their homes beginning this week. The first zone was open for re-entry yesterday, clearing residents and business owners who apply for vehicle passes to drive back into town. Those who return will be given personal protective equipment, along with portable toilets and medical and mental healthcare. Authorities caution that the area is still covered in ash and debris from the fire. The return will likely be devastating for many.

Resident Kesa Stoddart said revisiting the wreckage of her Lahaina home was emotional, saying, "These are places where several generations have grown up, and it's extremely sad for everybody. I don't think everyone's fully prepared for what it feels like to walk around your property and have it be just a big pile of ashes." Meanwhile, most of West Maui will officially reopen to tourists on October 8th. While parts of the island need the tourism money, some Lahaina residents say that's too soon. A petition demanding that date be delayed has collected more than 7,000 signatures.

Climate fuel disasters are wreaking havoc on home values across the country, and Florida's messy insurance market makes it one of the most stressed. That's according to new research from a nonprofit climate modeling group. There are high insurance premiums and a state-backed requirement that homeowners covered by the state-backed insurer of last resort enroll in the National Flood Insurance Program over the next three years. That could drop home values in Florida up to 40% in the next 30 years, according to data provided by First Street Foundation.

Climate and insurance experts say that may further gentrify Florida's coastal regions and barrier islands. They say high-income buyers who can afford to go without insurance will rebuild and repair out of pocket, and that it'll take a concerted effort among state and federal officials as well as insurance and reinsurance companies to avoid mass climate-spurred migration. You can hear more about this issue from fellow 5 Things host Dana Taylor in a special episode right here on this feed. We have a link in today's show notes.

For months, the bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska have been packing on pounds to prepare for hibernation this winter. And unbeknownst to them, they've been prepping for something else too. Fat Bear Week. It's a March madness style bracket competition that pits some of the park's biggest against each other in the arena of public opinion, with fans voting for their favorite bear each day until a champion is named at week's end. It runs this year from October 4th to October 10th. You can vote on

Thanks for listening to 5 Things. If you liked the show, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. And if you have any comments, you can reach us at I'm back tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA Today.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Migrant surge at border, Bob Menendez, Lahaina fire: 5 Things podcast