4 Investigates: Federal government shirks responsibility of caring for migrants to NM towns
June 18, 2019 10:19 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the last few months, Border Patrol agents have dropped off more than 15,000 asylum seekers into New Mexico communities.
The border communities of Las Cruces and Deming have been forced into figuring out what to do with the men, women and children who are dropped off daily. To the credit of the local communities, they have stepped up to the plate by providing a safe shelter, feeding and tending the migrants.
However, it comes at a cost to these New Mexico communities and now there is a growing call for that financial and legal burden to shift back to the federal government.
“We are in dire straits down here,” Chris Brice, Luna County interim manager, told KOB 4 during a recent tour of the migrant shelter he helped set up.
On Mother’s Day weekend, U.S. Border Patrol agents dropped off hundreds of migrants at a McDonald's in Deming with little warning. Brice and city leaders had no budget to set up shelter for them, but they did anyway, turning barns at the county fairgrounds into temporary lodging. Since then, the drop offs have not stopped.
“What we are seeing is Border Patrol finally reached their breaking point with holding as many people as they possibly could,” Brice explained. “There are very limited spaces and they essentially had over 600 people in a facility rated for 100. They were feeding them every day through a microwave, buying burritos at local stores. So, I think they reached their boiling point and decided they had to release them and now we are getting an average of 250 a day.”
When migrants arrive at the Deming shelter, they go through a medical screening, their hair is checked for lice and they are given any necessary medications. They are given nutritious food, mostly provided by non-profit and faith based organizations. It’s here where they make transportation arrangements to get to their sponsors.
Before U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement releases the migrants to the shelter, they have gone through a background check, are assigned a hearing for their asylum claim to be heard and are put in to the care of a sponsor. It’s up to the sponsor to pay for transportation costs and to ensure the asylum seeker makes all court dates.
For the migrants protection and safety, local police, EMS and fire crews are in the shelters 24 hours a day, seven days a week at a cost to local taxpayers of $10,000 to 15,000 every single day.
A similar story is playing out in Las Cruces.
“Well we have basically activated our emergency command post,” said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima. “We have also dedicated a certain amount of resources from our Fire Department to help coordinate the armory and a few other places.”
Mayor Miyagishma and other local leaders turned an old armory into a migrant shelter. A team of volunteers and paid staff do the same mission as in Deming; feed, shelter and care for the migrants until they move on. Mayor Miyagishima estimates the City of Las Cruces is spending $5,000 to 10,000 every single day, with only about 60% of the community supporting the efforts.
“What do you tell that 40 percent who don't support what the city is doing?” 4 Investigator Chris Ramirez asked the mayor.
“I give them two options. Option A – we work with Border Patrol and get them processed and on their way within 24-48 hours or they are dropped off in various places throughout the city. They are going to start roaming, they don't understand English. It's not safe for them and it probably isn't safe for the city.”
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sued the Trump Administration earlier this month. The suit claims the U.S. Government is breaking its own laws each time the U.S. Border Patrol drops off migrants into New Mexico towns because the federal government is shifting its legal and financial burden of caring for them to local communities. The suit claims that burden should fall squarely on the Trump Administration and the suit demands the daily drop offs into Deming and Las Cruces stop immediately.
“I want to signal to Washington that I am serious,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “We can’t wait for congress.”
New Mexico’s congressional delegation is trying to get the federal government to reimburse New Mexico local governments, but there aren’t any guarantees yet.
“This is critically important that this occurs,” said U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM. “I have been working closely with the appropriations committee in ensuring we are able to include and adopt language that would reimburse local governments as well as faith based organizations.”
“Look, we have to help people, right,” said U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM. “That is the humanitarian thing to do, so I am in favor of recouping some of those expenses and I hope we can be helpful in that endeavor.”
Regardless of the politics, city and county leaders say they will continue to make sure both their communities and the migrants are safe.
“I'll let the governor and president figure out what they need to figure out and until they do, we'll keep making it happen down here,” Brice said.
The State of New Mexico is issued $750,000 in grants to Deming, Luna County and Las Cruces to help offset costs. Luna County officials report they have already spent those funds.
Updated: June 18, 2019 10:19 PM
Created: June 18, 2019 08:55 PM
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