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Homeland Security chief briefs mayors at border

EL PASO – Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller joined a bipartisan delegation of mayors on a visit to the border Thursday that included a briefing from the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security.

Mayor Tim Keller joined a bipartisan delegation of mayors to discuss a meeting with DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan during a news conference Thursday. Keller and the other mayors toured the border earlier in the day. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’re focused on what’s actually happening, the root causes and the politics behind it are much less our concern,” Keller said during a news conference.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors organized the eight-person delegation’s border visit which included tours of a Border Patrol station and processing area, the Annunciation House’s shelter for migrant families and meetings with Customs and Border Protection officials. But the mayors did not know they would hear directly from Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan until they arrived on the border according to Keller.

DHS referred to the meeting as a “roundtable” discussion. The tour and meetings were closed to media but during their news conference the mayors said they were thankful for the opportunity to meet with the top DHS official and ask him questions.

“We believe that he understands and appreciates what our cities have been able to do, that we stand as ready partners to assist in this continuing challenge,” said Bryan Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and president of the conference of mayors.

Mayor Keller said he asked the Acting DHS Secretary about the ability to get advanced notice when large groups of migrant families are set for release and need assistance from cities like Albuquerque.

“We want as much time to prepare as possible,” Keller said.

The mayor said he also asked about family separation.

“I know we believe from a community perspective, from a faith perspective, from a family perspective, families should be protected and children should be protected, so that’s what we got into a good discussion about when separation can happen or has to happen legally,” Keller said.

“I learned a lot today,” Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyaguishima said after the tour of CBP facilities. “Now that it’s been on kind of a lull they’re getting more procedures in place, they’re getting more efficient and those asylum seekers that I saw or detainees, whatever you may call them, they seemed to be OK,” Miyaguishima said.

Border mayors Dee Margo of El Paso and Douglas Nicholls of Yuma, Arizona, said they asked when CBP would return staff diverted to help with migrant processing to their jobs at ports of entry. Both mayors said the long border wait times are affecting legal travel and trade.

The mayor of Mesa John Giles blamed “partisan paralysis” for the lack of action in Washington and said the nation’s mayors have a role to play in pushing the president and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and find pragmatic solutions on the border. “It’s going to take a bipartisan, nonpartisan approach and to me that means it’s going to be the mayors that step up and provide that leadership on the subject,” said Giles.

During their news conference, the mayors said they are committed to working across party lines.

“Behind me you have members that shade red and shade blue but none of those discussions came up today because this is not partisan in the way we view it. This is about finding solutions to problems that are impacting our cities,” Barnett said.