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Cities look at federal grants to help with costs from immigrants

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Two southern New Mexico cities affected by a surge of asylum seekers crossing the border in recent months appear likely to apply for federal funds from a border aid package signed by President Donald Trump earlier this week.

Las Cruces interim City Manager Bill Studer and Deming City Administrator Aaron Sera said reimbursements for expenses incurred for the care of migrants would be welcome.

“We’ll take anything we can get,” Sera said.

The $4.6 billion aid legislation includes $30 million in grants for New Mexico communities that have been overwhelmed by the number of immigrants crossing the Mexican border seeking asylum over the past several months.

“We’re interested,” Studer said. “Our grant administrator has contacted Sen. (Tom) Udall’s office to find out more information.”

Although Albuquerque was not affected as much as communities in the southern part of the state, city spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn said Albuquerque is also looking into applying for assistance.

“We will keep an eye on the details of the federal reimbursement option as they become clear, and if we are eligible we will apply,” Damazyn said.

In recent months, the U.S. Border Patrol has been dropping off thousands of Central American families released from custody in 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.

Studer said Las Cruces has helped more than 12,000 asylum seekers. Deming has taken care of about 7,500 since May 12, Sera said. Mariela Ruiz-Angel, coordinator of Albuquerque’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, said about 4,000 asylum-seekers have passed through Albuquerque.

Studer said the funding from the state “has helped,” but he said that Las Cruces has spent about $273,000 that has not been covered by the grants.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of money on this,” he said.

Sera said Deming has used $183,000 of the $250,000 it received from the state and would need more help once the money has been spent.

“We know that money’s going to run out,” Sera said.

Albuquerque allocated $250,000 to hosting groups that provided assistance to asylum seekers, “But we have not yet expended any of those funds,” Damazyn said.

Sera and Studer said their cities have provided immigrants with shelter, three meals a day, transportation to bus stations or airports to help them on the way to their sponsors.

“We’ve provided them with toothpaste, toilet tissue, soap and diapers,” Sera said.

“We’ve fed them, provided them with shower facilities, clothing and medical supplies,” Studer said.

Migrants have been housed at an old airplane hangar and at a building at the fairgrounds in Deming, Sera said.

Studer said Las Cruces has rented a facility, an old National Guard armory. He said the average stay by migrants in the city has been one to two days.

Studer said the city has assisted the asylum seekers with booking transportation to their sponsors with hopes of getting reimbursement. He said many don’t speak English and don’t fully understand the process.

He said the city has received some “backlash” over the help it has provided to immigrants.

“Some people are not happy with what we are doing,” Studer said. “But if someone is in need, to us it is the right thing to do.”

Nonprofit organizations, individuals and churches have been involved in the effort in all three cities.

“It’s been amazing to see everybody come together,” Sera said.

“We hope that community partners will also apply (for reimbursement) if they are eligible,” Damazyn said.

The number of asylum seekers getting help in the three cities has declined in recent weeks. Sera said Deming is now providing shelter to between 100 and 150 migrants. That’s down from about 700 at one time.

Studer said Las Cruces was overwhelmed for about six weeks. He said the city is now sheltering between 50 and 60. That number does not include those being sheltered by nonprofit groups, he said.

Sera and Studer said they’re unsure if agreements between the Trump administration and Mexico – such as deployment of the Mexico National Guard along that country’s borders – are a factor in the dropoff. Studer said summer temperatures in the desert terrain that the migrants have traveled from Central America could also be a factor.

“It’s hotter. That makes it a little more hazardous,” Studer said.

Reimbursement funding for communities is just a small part of the aid package. Included is $2.9 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to handle immigrant children arriving at the border by themselves.

Another $1.3 billion is being provided to improve conditions for immigrants being detained in Department of Homeland Security facilities.

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