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NM Cabinet secretary praises help for immigrants

Immigrants from Central America listen to a Border Patrol agent in March. More than 1,000 immigrants have been dropped off in Las Cruces since last Friday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Immigrants from Central America listen to a Border Patrol agent in March. More than 1,000 immigrants have been dropped off in Las Cruces since last Friday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico’s homeland security secretary got a firsthand look at how this city is coping with an influx of immigrant families.

“They’re doing incredible work. I’m absolutely impressed with everyone here in this community and how everyone has really come together to solve this problem,” Homeland Security Secretary Jackie White said.

White toured the Gospel Rescue Mission, Community of Hope and Crisis Triage Center, which are all providing temporary shelter, food and water for immigrants.

She also met with Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and visited the Doña Ana County/Las Cruces Emergency Operations Center. The state has staff members at the center helping coordinate the relief effort.

During a border tour last week, White learned from Border Patrol about its plan to release asylum seekers in Las Cruces, “so I reached out to all our emergency managers along the border and we started working on contingency plans in the event this happened.”

During her visit to shelters Thursday, White said, she saw “healthy, relieved, and happy children that are with their families who are coming into this country, and that is a direct result of the incredible work done in this community to help them get on their way.”

The vast majority of the families arriving on the border are seeking asylum and only need temporary shelter until they can make travel arrangements and join relatives in other U.S. cities where they live while their cases move through immigration court.

The city of Las Cruces mobilized quickly to deal with what has become the new normal as Border Patrol on a daily basis drops off asylum-seeking immigrant families after they have been released from custody.

“We expect it to be daily for the near future,” said Udall Vigil, spokesman for the city of Las Cruces.

The first vans with 70 immigrant parents and children arrived Friday. By Monday, Las Cruces City Council members had unanimously approved $75,000 in emergency humanitarian assistance for immigrants. The money will pay for food, water, shelter and personal hygiene products, including diapers.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve been dealt with,” Miyagishima said during the Monday City Council meeting.

Before approving the emergency funds, several Las Cruces City Council members said they were compelled to act.

“We were given one choice, frankly, between having the Customs and Border Protection Agency bring people and drop them on our streets and simply leave them to fend for themselves until they were transported to their sponsors, or do what we have been doing,” City Councilor Greg Smith said.

Other council members made a point of explaining they are focused on helping local residents in need, including veterans and homeless teens, but they had to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

“Our community is a giving and loving community, and we do a lot for our own in addition to do what we can for others,” City Councilor Gabe Vasquez said.

At least 1,080 immigrant parents and kids had been dropped off since last Friday.

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