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More Than 11,000 Migrants Wait In Northern Mexico; Caravan Of Migrants Expected To Arrive At U.S.-Mexico Border; Top Biden Officials Will Meet This Week With Mexican President; Data Shows A Booming Economy But Most Americans Don't Feel It; Students Grapple With College Applications Post-Affirmative Action. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 26, 2023 - 12:30   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: A caravan made up of thousands of migrants is headed north to the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities at the southern border are already struggling to deal with an unprecedented search of migrants. And CNN is just now learning more than 11,000 people are waiting in shelters on the Mexican side of the border, hoping to get into the U.S. That's according to community leaders. The challenge is being acutely felt in Eagle Pass, a city in Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border.

And joining me now is CNN's Rosa Flores. Rosa, it was your reporting, you've been in Eagle Pass. What is the latest on the southern border and what are the conditions for people that are arriving there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Phil, the situation here in Eagle Pass has definitely improved. I spoke to a senior CBP official who says that while the picture behind me looks better than it did last week, because last week there were thousands of migrants who were waiting in line to be transported to immigration processing, that the agency is not out of the woods yet.

There are still smuggling organizations that are pushing migrants to cross illegally into the United States. Now, the Biden administration has been surging resources. They have been suspending operations at several ports of entry in several states to redirect those resources.

But here's the bottom line of what the American people need to know whenever there's a surge on the U.S. southern border. This creates gaps in border security. Why? Because while border patrol agents are very busy processing migrants like the ones that you see behind me. We saw a group just arrived earlier, and these are moms and dads turning themselves into immigration authorities.

The gaps in border security are created because these border patrol agents who are normally patrolling other parts of the southern border can't do that. They are instead doing this, what you're seeing behind me. And from talking to U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens, he says that that's what the cartels capitalize on. That's what smugglers do.

They use these gaps in border security bill to then redirect drugs and criminals to the southern border, and have that flow enter illicitly while Border Patrol is busy doing what you see behind me. Phil?

MATTINGLY: Rosa, it's obviously kind of a triage situation to use a term that probably isn't quite fit, but are there mitigation steps the administration is taking that they feel are actually working on the ground?

FLORES: You know, we do see that decompression works, and what that means is that while Eagle Pass is saturated, overcapacity, Border Patrol agents transfer these migrants to other areas on the border, to the Rio Grande Valley, to Laredo, to Del Rio to make sure that those migrants are processed swiftly.

But what the Biden administration is also trying to do is to impose legal consequences for the illegal entry into the United States. And what we're talking about there is the processing of migrants under Title 8, enhanced -- expedited removal, deportations. And DHS reports that since May, about 445,000 migrants have been removed or returned.

That number is big and it's significant. It's more than the total number of individuals who were removed in fiscal year 2019. That's when President Trump was in office. But Phil, here's the key. Whenever there is a border surge, it's very difficult for any administration to impose legal consequences because that takes time.

And that tests, the border holding infrastructure on the U.S. Southern border. And right now, we know that it has been backed up because of the ongoing surge that has been going on for weeks. Phil?

MATTINGLY: All right. Rosa Flores live for us on the U.S.-Mexico board.

I want to turn now to the Biden administration's part of it in Washington. Joining me now is CNN's Priscilla Alvarez from the White House. You know, Priscilla, you cover this as closely or closer than anyone. I know you've basically been the one to explain everything to me about what's been going on at the border for the better part of several years now.

When you talk to administration officials in Washington, in that building behind you, do they have a sense of -- anything they can do in the near term to deal with this?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, a lot of it, Phil, is shoring up resources. That's sort of the patchwork process that they go through. But then, in addition to that, it's looking for help from the regional partners. That has been the through line over the course of the Biden administration, is looking to the partners to the south to help stem the flow of migrants, which come from multiple countries.

There was a time when we were only talking about migrants coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, not anymore. They come from as far as Venezuela, Colombia, and that creates a lot of difficulty for this administration. So, last week, President Biden called the Mexican president to get more help and place pressure on our neighbor. But in addition to that, senior U.S. officials are going to be traveling there tomorrow to get more commitment. And, of course, this is a political vulnerability for President Biden going into 2024. Republicans have repeatedly seized on this issue and slammed the administration over its handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

And polls show that Americans are also have their doubts about the way that the president is handling this with 69 percent disapproving of his handling of immigration and only 26 percent approving.


Now what the administration has been contending with is record migration across the Western Hemisphere. It only got worse after the coronavirus pandemic. And there is a very outdated immigration system in place that is just not prepared to absorb the flow of people that are crossing the U.S. southern border.

And the president has said that he's willing to compromise on border policy changes and work with Republicans and that came as Republicans are now sort of keeping the administration from passing its supplemental request that it wants to see for Ukraine aid and for Israel aid. So this really vexing domestic issue is now at the center of the president's foreign policy agenda.

And it just goes to show how complicated this has been for the White House to navigate as they both try to get control and a handle on the U.S. southern border, while also try to move forward some of their other priorities, and especially for this president, those priorities that are abroad with Ukraine and Israel.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a very complex dynamic to say the least. There's one thing everybody agrees on, it's that the system is broken, what to do about it. It's not a lot of agreement there.

Priscilla Alvarez, thank you as always.

And coming up, stocks are surging, inflation is falling, and more economists are saying a recession is off the table. Will the -- will the good news continue in 2024? Will anyone believe it? That's next.



MATTINGLY: Well, if you're into economic indicators, and I most certainly am. There are plenty of reasons for Americans to feel good about the economy as we head into 2024. GDP is growing, inflation is down, the jobless rate near a 50-year low. Gas prices, they're falling. The stock market, strong, hitting records.

And despite the many warnings, we are still very much not in a recession. And yet Americans say they don't feel good about the U.S. economy. Is that going to change in the year ahead?

Joining me now to discuss this, CNN Global Economic Analyst, Rana Foroohar, and our Eva McKend is back with us. Rana, we've talked about this quite often over the course of the last couple of months, and I think the biggest question that I have at this point in time is, is this just a something where the leading indicators, it's more of a tail effect on the people on the ground? Or are there elements here, and I'm thinking primarily housing costs, or kind of the stickiness of just lodging in general, where people live on rent as well, that are -- that's really driving the disconnect?

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Yes. So look, I think it's both things. I mean, you know, anybody who has been filling their car, going to the grocery store, paying a mortgage in the last couple of years has felt some pain, right? There has been rising inflation and it's something that we haven't really seen in decades.

So there are generations of Americans that just haven't been in a situation like this, and it's been alarming and concerning for a lot of people. Now, that said, inflation has been coming down. So why hasn't consumer sentiment, voter sentiment, you know, caught up with that good economic news, that tends to be a trailing indicator.

So it takes a while. It takes a quarter, two quarters, maybe even a year of good news, particularly after all we've been through, you know, a pandemic, a couple of hot wars, trade tensions for people to really feel like, OK, things are secure. I can relax. We're back to normal. And I do think that we're probably going to start getting there in 2024.

MATTINGLY: It's been interesting, Rana, when you look at, you know, if you look at the consumer surveys, you look at the Michigan -- we're seeing -- I'm short handing here because it's December 26th and the brain is not --


MATTINGLY: -- quite working as fast as it normally does, but there's been a kind of --

FOROOHAR: It's only the day after Christmas, you're good.

MATTINGLY: I know, right? There's been a bump, there's been a tangible shift, and my question I guess is, is this a one month, two-month thing, or is this the start of a vibe shift, to use the terminology from Econ Twitter, where people who have bad expectations about the year ahead are now sitting there going, all right, maybe I'm starting to feel this a little bit.

FOROOHAR: Yes, you know, folks in the stock markets talk about capitulation, you know, right? Like, you wait, you think, should I get in now? Should I get in now? And eventually stocks rise and then you capitulate. I think we are going to see some capitulation in the year ahead.

I think that as long as you see a pretty robust job market particularly if we see three-rate cuts in the new year, which is what the fed's been talking about, that's going to lower borrowing costs. That's going to make people feel better about home mortgage rates. I think that you are going to see a better sentiment.

Now, that said, I don't want to deny that there's a lot going on in the world right now. You know, I mean, we're -- as I say, in the middle of two hot wars, you know, you could see more trouble in the Middle East, a heightening of the situation in Gaza that could, you know, raise oil prices, let's say. You could see more supply chain disruptions.

And also, even though stocks are really high, and that's great, stocks are high. You know, by some measures, they're overvalued. So it's possible that you could also see a correction in the New Year. And that would not be something unexpected or unwarranted.

So, steady as she goes, but don't get ahead of yourselves. And I think in some ways, I think the markets may be getting a little bit ahead of themselves with all the excitement at the end of this year and stocks going up so much.

MATTINGLY: Eva, over to you. When you're on the campaign trail, when you talk to voters, what are they key on with the economy? I assume they're not rolling through, you know, what CPI or what, you know, PCE was over the course of the last month, maybe not rolling out the the new GDP numbers. What are they keyed on that kind of determines how they feel about things?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: So you hear your standard concerns, the price of stuff at the grocery store, interest rates right now, if they're interested in buying a house. What has always been surprising to me, though, for President Biden and by extension, Democrats, is that the policies that Democrats champion -- the economic policies that they champion are by and large really popular.

Yet time and time again, when you poll Americans on the economy, the Democrats really take a beating and Republicans are viewed more favorably. But the child tax credit, for instance, that's an economic policy, that's popular. Raising the federal minimum wage, that's popular.


Not all Democrats champion this, but certainly many progressives do. A universal basic income. We see a little bit of that here in D.C. So basic income for low income folks. You know, somehow Democrats are losing a messaging battle here. And that is something that they perennially have to work on.

I think it's it's really talking about this in a different way and getting many Americans, especially low income Americans, to understand that, hey, if we have larger majorities, some of the economic issues that you would like to see move forward, we could actually advance them.

MATTINGLY: And Eva, do you think that messaging alone -- like if you pull up the -- how Americans feel about the economy in the latest CNN poll, 43 percent very worried about the state of the economy in their community, 41 percent somewhat worried, only 16 percent not at all worried. Do you think that's a more a messaging issue than it is a policy issue?

MCKEND: Well, it's not all messaging because --


MCKEND: -- obviously, you know, the price of goods during inflation were high. We all saw that when we went to our local grocery store. So it's not all messaging. But I would argue that some of it, yes it is. Yes, it is, because some of these policies are really, really popular. Some of these policies that Republicans don't champion, and yet Democrats continue to take a beating.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's a fascinating moment, and it's going to be a fascinating year ahead. Also, how do you account for people just not feeling great after the last couple of years? Everybody's been through this. It's a huge question.

Rana, appreciate you as always. Eva, thanks so much for the on-the- ground expertise. Thank you, guys.

And coming up, applying to college is hard enough, but now students are struggling to navigate the process after affirmative action was guided by the Supreme Court. We're going to bring you the real-life consequences of that blockbuster decision. That's next.



MATTINGLY: Well, it can be easy to forget when we talk about the politics, that the decisions, the policies made in Washington can have huge ramifications outside of D.C. For instance, the Supreme Court's ruling this year that struck down affirmative action in college admissions. High school students waiting into the college admissions process just months later are grappling with how and how much to talk about race on their applications.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is looking into this. He joins me now. Gabe, what have you been finding?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Phil, what I found is students are really nervously navigating this changing college process, which we know was already fairly mysterious and ambiguous. And these students are just trying to figure out what is the right way to talk about race on their applications, which to be clear, is still allowed as they paint a picture of their life experience.

But as a result of all of this uncertainty, the students I spoke with are taking starkly different approaches.


LYNIJAH RUSSELL, APPLYING TO COLLEGE: Hi, Brown. My name is Lynijah and I am a black girl in STEM. COHEN (voice-over): That's Lynijah Russell's application video for Brown University. She's among the millions of students applying to college six months after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, navigating how and even whether to include race in their pitch for admission.

COHEN: What was your reaction to the decision?

RUSSELL: At first, I was a little scared. I thought it was a bit unfair. It made me doubt myself a little bit, like, are my numbers good enough?

COHEN: You actually took some schools off your list.

RUSSELL: I felt like Gannon (ph) Middle Schools were almost impossible.

COHEN (voice-over): But when she sat down to write her college essays, she decided it was more important than ever to discuss race as part of her life experience.

RUSSELL: I believe it made me emphasize that I was black a bit more than I probably would have. I started expressing myself more through my photos, my hairstyles.

COHEN (voice-over): Her main essay is about growing up in a rough part of Baltimore.

RUSSELL: The thing that's important to me is my identity, who I am as a person, and race is a big part of that.

COHEN: You think schools are still looking for that diversity?


TRACY RAMOS, CO-FOUNDER, COLLEGE BOUND PARENTING: Do not ignore such a crucial part of your identity.

COHEN (voice-over): College advisers like Tracy Ramos are encouraging black students not to shy away from race in their applications, especially in their essays.

RAMOS: It paints a holistic picture of who you are.

COHEN: Do you think without boxes to check, it's even more important to write about these issues?

RAMOS: I do. A lot of the elite colleges are looking for ways to identify these students. The key piece of advice is make it easy for the colleges to know all of who you are.

COHEN (voice-over): Many schools have added questions to their applications so students can discuss their life experience and how they'd add to campus diversity.

SEAN MANLEY, APPLYING TO COLLEGE: As a student athlete, Vice President of the Black Student Union and Vice President of the National Society of Black Engineers.

COHEN (voice-over): Sean Manley's essays captured his unique experience as a black student in rural Maryland.

MANLEY: I was scared at first that they wouldn't be able to see my race and see all the challenges that come with it. I'm very proud of like who I am and it's a very important part of why I'm here.

COHEN: Do you think it will put you in a better spot?

MANLEY: I don't know if writing it in my essay is good or bad yet because we're kind of like the experiment class.

COHEN (voice-over): The Supreme Court decision has added a new level of stress to an already stressful college application process for students like Sean and Lynijah. Experts expect historically black colleges will see higher enrollment and more applications. And some students are taking a very different approach.

COHEN: You took race out of most of your essays.


COHEN (voice-over): Harmony Moore rewrote her essays about being a black student at a mostly white Houston school.

COHEN: Why did you feel that was necessary?

MOORE: I didn't want to have the admissions -- wrong admissions officer read it and then they all of a sudden like don't want to let me into their school because they feel like I'm trying to like push my race on them. I think I stand out like on my own, like with my extracurriculars and with my honors that I've received. I don't want to just like have the exact same story as hundreds of other black students.



COHEN (on-camera): And Phil, another student told me she's looking at each college individually and only writing about her racial identity for the schools that she believes are more progressive. Again, it just speaks to the calculations, Phil, that these students are making as they're trying to figure out how to put their best foot forward.

MATTINGLY: Gabe, I have to ask, we heard one of the students you spoke to refer to himself as part of the experiment class. Do experts have any sense of how this may impact acceptance rates?

COHEN (on-camera): Well, look, that's the big question, and there have been concerns for months now that the Supreme Court decision is going to hurt diversity on campuses, in part, because of the admissions rates that we've already seen in states that did away with affirmative action years ago. We're still waiting to see how the changes that were made this fall will play out into the admissions numbers for next year, but we know colleges are adjusting and they say they're paying attention to it.

MATTINGLY: All right, Gabe Cohen with the reporting, thanks so much.

And thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN New Central starts right after the break.