Sandoval County has become a resting place for immigrants on their journey to legally live in the U.S.
Since February, Jim Ganon, CEO of Catholic Charities in Albuquerque, has been working with immigrants to help them reach that goal. Ganon, a grandson of Irish immigrants, said he wanted to help with what he called the ebb and flow the immigration hurricane as a way of implementing the example of the Good Samaritan parable told in the Bible.
“We assist immigrants that want to make a legal claim for residency,” he said. “We assist with statewide visas for victims of criminal assault and other domestic violence situations so they can testify and help prosecute their alleged abusers.”
Ganon said his organization serves about 20,000 people every year. It includes a children’s learning center in Albuquerque’s South Valley, and a senior program that helps those in need get around the community.
“We work in all sort of areas where there is a need for help,” he said.
The families seeking asylum at the southern border, Ganon said, remind him of his own family’s struggle to enter the country many years ago.
“They weren’t wanted; they brought alleged sickness and all the same stories you hear, which certainly weren’t true,” he said. “Today the descendants of those families have helped build this country and answer the call of service. Immigration has been a lifeline to this country.”
Most of the immigrants that Ganon works with are transitioning through New Mexico to other parts of the country where they have family members or a sponsor waiting for them.
Next, each immigrant will have to make a legal claim in the U.S. court for the right to stay.
“We don’t determine any of that,” Ganon said.
As it stands, the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement determine the eligibility of each immigrant to enter the country under an asylum claim.
“We are just facilitating the stranger on their journey,” he said.
So far, Ganon said his organization has been able to help close to 1,000 immigrants with much-needed resources on their way to their final destination.
“We are gearing up to help some 500 immigrants a month, which still on a daily basis, there are about 700 people being released in the El Paso area, and that number is climbing,” he said.
The alternative to helping these people, he said, is the Border Patrol releasing them into the streets with no assistance.
“This leaves these people vulnerable to criminal elements, plus we also receive immigrants from Central America that speak indigenous languages, which makes getting assistance that much more complicated,” he said. “So just letting them wander the streets of El Paso with the hope they will get to their family members seems impossible.”
According to Ganon, 20 percent of the immigrants his organization helps are from Brazil with small numbers of Africans and Cubans.
“Slowly over the past few years, the avenues of coming into the country legally have been closed off more and more are taken away from people,” he said.
Ganon said the immigrants he has dealt with mainly come in pairs as one parent with a child or an entire family. Very few single individuals come.
Once an immigrant claiming asylum has been deemed safe, they are no longer detained, he said. They are given whatever paperwork they came with, as well as instructions on where they are to go.
Each adult immigrant is fitted with an ankle bracelet, which tracks their movement toward their family or sponsor at a final destination. If an immigrant is shown to have veered from the path they are supposed to be on, legal measures are taken to apprehend them.
Catholic Charities is set up to give each person seeking asylum a fresh start by offering a hot meal, a shower, clothes and a place to sleep.
“Many of the people we help have already been through so much,” Ganon said. “You can imagine how scary it must be to enter a border facility, and after you’ve been processed you are now in a foreign place with no resources.”
Ganon wouldn’t verify the sites around the Metro Area where the immigrants stay before moving on. He did say his organization has many places throughout several counties, including Sandoval County, that offer a safe place for each group.
“We haven’t had any reporters at any of our sites, because these folks are traumatized and some don’t understand the ramifications of what they may say,” he said. “We want this layover to be a chance for these people to rest before they continue on their journey toward their families and sponsors.”