Amid Influx of Asylum-Seekers, New Mexico Seeks Federal Reimbursement

by | May 23, 2019 AT 8:23 AM
Immigrants standing in line near border.
Migrants seeking asylum turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas. (TNS/Los Angeles Times/Gary Coronado)

By Dan McKay

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is headed to Washington, D.C., this week to push the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for better communication and federal reimbursement as New Mexico handles an influx of asylum-seeking families.

She has a face-to-face meeting scheduled with the acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, and will also meet with other federal officials.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat and former congresswoman, has already spoken with McAleenan by telephone but will use the in-person meeting to relay local concerns centering on the border, a spokesman said.

Charities, churches and other groups in New Mexico are coping with the release of thousands of migrants seeking asylum. Some local governments have set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to help cover the cost of humanitarian aid, and Deming and Otero County have declared a state of emergency.

Lujan Grisham this week will seek federal reimbursement for the humanitarian assistance, more federal staffing and resources, and better communication about when and where migrants are being dropped off, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said. The governor will also raise local concerns about the closure of Border Patrol highway checkpoints, he said.

"There are just a lot of things that could be done better," Stelnicki said.

Ruben Garcia, director of the nonprofit Annunciation House, said last week that U.S. immigration authorities regularly release more than 1,000 refugees a day in El Paso and Las Cruces -- "a number that has become almost overwhelming."

A dozen Republican lawmakers in the state House, meanwhile, are urging Lujan Grisham to send more National Guard troops to the border and to create a state-led crisis response team.

"Some of New Mexico's poorest communities are being forced to provide shelter and other services at a time when these communities can least afford to accommodate the various needs of the immigrant population," the legislators said in a letter to the governor.

Lujan Grisham, in turn, told the lawmakers that a "military response to a humanitarian matter" wouldn't be a good use of state resources. But she said her administration -- including the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management -- is working to provide logistical support and coordinate with volunteers.

Lujan Grisham's campaign is covering the cost of her trip to Washington, D.C. Her visit will include a speech during the Ideas Conference of the Center for American Progress event and participation in a fundraising event with the Democratic Governors Association.

She also expects to meet with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and other federal officials.

The governor was set to leave today and return late Thursday.

(c)2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)