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Albuquerque unveils immigrant affairs office

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Richard Berry announced a new city office Tuesday intended to serve Albuquerque’s immigrants and refugees by providing a “central point of contact” for groups and agencies that serve them.

The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs will offer services without regard to the legal immigration status of people who seek help, Berry said at a news conference.

The office and three-member staff are funded by an 18-month $300,000 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant awarded in July.

The city will provide office space at City Hall.

Though the office will open in July, the announcement Tuesday was “timely” given the charged discussion about immigrants and refugees, both nationally and locally, Berry said.

“There has always been rhetoric from the left and the right as it involves immigration,” he said. “But I don’t think it has ever been ramped up to the level we’ve seen most recently.”

By announcing the new office on Tuesday, Berry said he wanted to “cut through some of the rhetoric” and help allay the fears of people in the immigrant and refugee communities.

“It’s mostly about making sure people understand that we are a welcoming community,” he said. “If you are an immigrant or a refugee, we want you to know that Albuquerque is a welcoming place for you.”

Asked whether the office would serve people who lack legal immigration status, Berry said: “It is not our job to check on that. That’s not what this office is about.”

Berry made the announcement the morning after dozens of speakers urged city councilors to approve a memorial reaffirming Albuquerque as an “immigrant-friendly” city.

The memorial, introduced Monday by four city councilors, seeks to calm “uncertainty and fear” since President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders last month intended to temporarily restrict the entry of immigrants and refugees into the U.S.

The city has planned to form an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs for about 18 months, Berry said.

Mariela Ruiz-Angel, who is organizing the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs under contract with the city, said she wants to create a “one-stop hub” where people can find government and private services.

Abbas Akhil, former president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said he and other community organizers met with city officials in August, shortly after the Kellogg grant was announced, to discuss how to move forward.

“I think this office could play the role of bringing everybody together,” Akhil said after the news conference. “I think it sends a good message that we are an immigrant-friendly city.”

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