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Plan to house asylum-seekers draws GOP fire

SANTA FE – The decision to provide temporary housing to asylum-seeking migrants at dormitories on the Expo New Mexico grounds in Albuquerque is generating political fallout.

Fifteen state senators, all Republicans, delivered a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday that urged the first-term Democratic governor to re-evaluate the decision and expressed concern about its impact on New Mexico residents.

The letter was drafted less than a week after New Mexico State University announced it would move a youth 4-H horse program – with more than 90 enrolled participants – to Las Cruces that had been scheduled for Expo New Mexico.

A 4-H Northern District Livestock School scheduled to take place right after the youth horse program was also canceled, though an Expo spokesman said Tuesday that accommodations were offered for participants in both programs.

“While we are not opposed to the use of Expo New Mexico facilities to temporarily house asylum seekers, we find it problematic that programs that benefit New Mexico’s residents and communities may be canceled or relocated because of this decision,” the GOP senators wrote in their letter.

However, Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said it was a “mischaracterization of the facts” to suggest the 4-H program was displaced by the decision to house the asylum-seeking migrants.

“Both were feasibly able to happen at the same time,” Stelnicki said Tuesday. “Expo is able to do everything it had previously planned while also temporarily housing these vulnerable women and children.”

He also said no other events are expected to be affected by the plan.

Lujan Grisham, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and top Expo officials announced earlier this month that the fairgrounds’ dorms would be used for the asylum-seekers, though no migrants have stayed there yet and Expo spokesman Wyndham Kemsley said local officials do not know when they might arrive.

But federal immigration authorities have already transferred thousands of immigrants to Albuquerque, where faith-based and community groups have helped them make travel arrangements to meet sponsors elsewhere in the country.

In addition to the Expo dorms, the Albuquerque City Council recently approved spending $250,000 to support their efforts. Las Cruces has also approved spending $75,000 on humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, the letter delivered Tuesday was signed by 15 of the state’s 16 GOP senators. The one who did not sign it, Sen. Gregg Fulfer, R-Jal, said in a statement that he did not think the letter went far enough.

“The governor apparently is not seeing what we are seeing in southeastern New Mexico – we are in a crisis,” said Fulfer, who claimed illegal immigrants are “crowding out” New Mexicans and depleting state and local resources.

Migrants are legally allowed to seek asylum from within the United States, though they must prove they face persecution in their home countries to be granted asylum.

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