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Border aid bill includes funding for NM communities

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Communities in New Mexico can now seek reimbursement for costs incurred while caring for migrants after President Donald Trump signed a $4.6 billion border aid package Monday.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the package included $30 million in grant funding for communities that have been overwhelmed by the number of migrants crossing the Mexican border seeking asylum over the past several months.

“They’re going to have to apply for a grant in order to get this money,” he said. “The $30 million is in an existing grant program. The city of Las Cruces or the county of Doña Ana, if they’ve expended money, they just have to show they’ve spent the money, then they can receive the grant. We’ve expanded the pot for that, and they know that’s what the money’s there for.”

Udall said the New Mexico delegation fought to have the funding included to assist the communities in the southern part of the state.

“It’s been a shame that we’ve seen the Border Patrol with only an hour notice or a little bit more drop hundreds of immigrants in southern New Mexico communities, expecting the communities to put up resources to take care of them, to have them have a place to sleep, to get them on a bus to unite them with their sponsors,” Udall said. “It’s cost a lot of money for these communities, whether it’s Deming, Las Cruces or Albuquerque. Many people have stepped up to the plate. Religious institutions and others do very good humanitarian work.”

CEO Jim Gannon of the Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico said any resources available to assist asylum-seekers would be welcome, but he added that he didn’t have enough details “to see how it’s going to be allocated.”

Mariela Ruiz-Angel, coordinator of Albuquerque’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, offered similar sentiments. She said the city was still trying to find out how the money would be distributed and who would be eligible for the funding.

She said that the city contributed $250,000 to hosting groups that provided assistance to asylum-seekers but that she wasn’t sure of the city’s total cost in offering assistance to migrants.

Gannon said his organization would be interested in assistance that would allow migrants to be helped in a dignified way.

“With any government assistance, there’s always strings attached,” Gannon said. “We still need to learn what those strings attached are.”

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 states of emergency to cope with the influx and have received $250,000 in emergency grants from the state.

The Border Patrol does not have enough holding cell space for all the families, as 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.

“Because federal agencies have not provided for sufficient shelter and humanitarian needs for these asylum-seekers, local, state and nongovernmental organizations in New Mexico are facing new and unbudgeted costs,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said after the legislation passed the Senate.

Gannon said his organization has assisted 1,200 individuals at all of its sites but couldn’t say how many have been helped in Albuquerque.

Ruiz-Angel said about 4,000 asylum-seekers passed through Albuquerque, but she said buses stopped bringing migrants about three weeks ago.

Carla Lanting Shibuya of Albuquerque Interfaith attributed the decrease in part to the deployment of Mexico’s National Guard to try to stop migrants from crossing the border illegally.

She said her organization probably wouldn’t seek reimbursement because assistance through the organization was funded entirely through donations. But she said future assistance might be welcome if asylum-seekers return to the city.

Expo New Mexico – site of the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque – had set aside facilities to house asylum-seekers, but as of Tuesday, none had taken shelter there.

“But we are still ready to accept them,” Expo New Mexico official Wyndham Kemsley said. He said the facility would be available for housing until the end of the month. Expo New Mexico would not be able to house migrants after that because of preparations for the New Mexico State Fair, he said.

Not all of the state’s delegation supported the package in its final form.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small – whose district is on the border – supported the legislation, but fellow Democratic colleagues Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland voted against the measure in the House.

“I’ve heard from organizations on the ground who have stepped up to fill the void created by the federal government’s insufficient response that they are running out of funds to bear this federal responsibility,” Torres Small said. “This supplemental funding could not be made available a moment too soon.”

Haaland opposed it in the House because of concerns about funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other border security efforts.

“I couldn’t, in good conscience, vote for a bill that allows this administration to continue wasting resources on the harmful policies that refuse to provide proper care for children, forces local communities to foot the bill, and creates a crisis out of a challenge,” she said.

Luján could not be reached for comment.

Udall labeled the package “a good bill,” but not a perfect one.

“We’re dealing with a very contentious issue,” the senator said. “Many sides disagree about what should go on at the border. Many disagree about the funding levels and what the activities should be.”

He said the aid package included $2.9 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to handle immigrant children arriving at the border by themselves.

“We all know about the kids that are in very bad facilities,” he said. “One of the reasons they are having to stay there is there isn’t enough assistance by HHS to take care of them. This is a humanitarian crisis, and we’re delivering the money to take care of those migrant kids.”

Udall said $1.3 billion is being provided “to improve the squalid conditions for immigrants detained by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Udall said the bill contains specific language preventing the president from moving the money over to pay for a border wall. He said it also prevents the president from funding ICE detention beds.

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