In Effort to Stop Quick-Release Asylum Policy, New Mexico Sues Feds

by | June 12, 2019 AT 8:51 AM
A Border Patrol agent drops off an asylum seeker and her three sons at the bus station in McAllen, Texas. (TNS/Los Angeles Times/Genaro Molina)

By Dan Boyd  and Angela Kocherga

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Monday that New Mexico has filed a lawsuit against top federal immigration officials in an attempt to halt President Donald Trump's administration's policy of releasing asylum-seeking migrants without assistance in border communities.

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the city of Albuquerque in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, is the latest salvo in a politically charged dispute over a surge of migrants arriving at the nation's border with Mexico.

In recent months, the U.S. Border Patrol has been dropping off thousands of Central American families released from custody into Las Cruces and Deming. Both cities have declared a state of emergency to cope with the influx.

A record number of asylum seekers are crossing the border into the United States, and the U.S. Border Patrol does not have enough holding cell space for families. More than 104,000 migrant parents with children seeking asylum have crossed the border since October in the El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico.

This year, federal immigration officials have released roughly 9,000 migrants in Las Cruces and an additional 4,700 migrants in Deming, according to the lawsuit, with hundreds also being bused weekly to Albuquerque.

"The Trump administration has consistently and flagrantly failed in its response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border as well as in addressing legitimate security concerns," Lujan Grisham said. "The president has shown time and again he is interested only in demonizing the vulnerable people who arrive at our border ... while taking no action to substantively and proactively protect immigrants and our southern border communities from human and drug trafficking."

The lawsuit claims the administration has shifted away from the "safe release" policy that provided asylum-seeking migrants with basic assistance and necessities until their assigned court date before an immigration judge, and that shift has placed a heavy burden on New Mexico state and local governments.

It asks a federal judge to order the policy to be reinstated, while also asking for the federal government to reimburse New Mexico -- and local communities -- for money spent addressing the situation.

The filing of the lawsuit also comes two weeks after Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat, traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and other federal officials on immigration-related matters.

Deming

The surge in asylum-seekers arriving at the border has some New Mexico communities scrambling.

Arrivals in Deming have grown to about 250 migrants a week, according to Chris Brice, the assistant county manager for Luna County, who is coordinating the relief effort for the county. Some of the migrants are "overflow" from nearby El Paso, while others are migrants who crossed the border into New Mexico, according to Brice.

The vast majority are parents with children from Central America seeking asylum and who need temporary shelter until they can make travel arrangements to join relatives or sponsors in other cities.

Over the weekend, El Paso-based Annunciation House, a nonprofit organization providing shelter for migrants and refuges, announced a plan to provide some relief for Deming. The organization, with funding from the Santa Fe Foundation, is chartering buses from Deming to take migrant families to Denver and Dallas. In those cities, faith-based organizations and volunteers will temporarily shelter the families and make travel arrangements so the asylum seekers can join relatives or sponsors across the country while they wait for their cases to be decided by immigration judges.

Meanwhile, Luna County has had to bus people to the airport or bus stations in El Paso daily.

"We've got another 30 to 40 a day that go out of the little bus station here in Deming," Brice said.

Because Denver and Dallas are both airport hubs and have multiple bus lines, migrant families sent there will have an easier time traveling on to their final destinations in the United States. The first bus from Deming to Dallas departed Saturday. The next busload of migrants is scheduled to leave for Denver on Wednesday. About 100 migrants a week will be bused to those cities from Deming.

Emergency grants

The state has also offered financial aid at the direction of the Governor's Office, with Deming, Luna County, Las Cruces and Doña Ana County each having been awarded $250,000 in emergency grants to help cover local costs.

However, state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the Trump administration has been upholding the nation's immigration laws, while accusing Lujan Grisham of withdrawing most state's 118 National Guard troops who had been deployed to the state's southern border without consulting community leaders.

Lujan Grisham said in February that she did not believe there was a national security crisis at the border, but said she recognized legitimate concerns of residents and local officials in southwestern New Mexico.

"The governor simply wants an open border policy that accepts all migrants, and she wants federal taxpayers to foot the bill," said Pearce, who was defeated by Lujan Grisham in last year's gubernatorial election.

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