Provoked by the federal government’s abandonment of its longstanding “safe release” policy, New Mexico has become the first state to sue the Trump administration over its decision to stop assistance to asylum seekers awaiting decisions on whether they can remain in the U.S.
With the city of Albuquerque as co-plaintiff, the suit — filed June 10 — also seeks reimbursement to the state for funds spent because of the administration’s “derogation of duty” to administer asylum claims, according to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
New Mexico has contributed $750,000 in emergency grants to local governments near the border to cover costs for care of asylum families, including those in the city of Deming in Luna County and the city of Las Cruces, the seat of Doña Ana County, according to the suit.
Under the now-defunct safe release program, families arriving at the border’s ports of entry were processed — with their backgrounds and biometric data checked — and those determined not to be a threat were released and helped to settle in the U.S. with relatives or acquaintances while the courts decided whether they could remain in the country.
“This legal action is intended to protect, in equal measure, New Mexicans and local governments in the southern part of our state as well as the asylum-seeking individuals from Central America and elsewhere who have been treated with neglect by decision-makers in Washington,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
“The president has shown time and again he is interested only in demonizing the vulnerable people who arrive at our border, stoking unfounded fears about national security while taking no action to substantively and proactively protect immigrants and our southern border communities from human- and drug-trafficking,” she said.
That safe release program was canceled in October 2018. Asylum seekers are now released almost immediately, leaving New Mexico cities responsible for their futures. Many of the asylum seekers with family members or sponsors in the U.S. no longer have the federal government aid to communicate with them.
“The State of New Mexico, and the City of Albuquerque, have been profoundly impacted by this change in longstanding federal policy,” according to the lawsuit. “Thus far in 2019, tens of thousands of asylum seekers and family members that would have formerly received assistance with basic necessities and provided the means to travel to their final destinations all over the country have been left to fend for themselves in border-adjacent New Mexico towns.
“In order to prevent a potentially significant humanitarian and/or public health crisis, New Mexico state and local governments have been forced to step in and provide the basic assistance to these people that the federal government has callously (without prior warning) refused to provide at a cost of millions of dollars.”
The suit calls for a “judicial declaration” that the change of policy was unlawful and calls on the administration “to resume providing the assistance to asylum seekers and their families.”
Since April 2019, about 9,000 asylum seekers have been left in Las Cruces, a city of about 100,000 residents, the lawsuit estimates. The lawsuit says that Deming, with a population of approximately 14,000 persons, has received about 4,700 migrants.
Albuquerque, located about 250 miles north of ports of entry with Mexico, receives about 150 to 250 asylum seekers a week, with the number expected to increase as time goes on. The city has set aside $250,000 for its humanitarian efforts.
“Local faith-based organizations and volunteers have been left to clean up the federal administration’s immigration mess,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. “By abandoning the ‘safe release’ policy, the federal government has abandoned the border states.
“Albuquerque’s compassionate community members stepped up to help these struggling families as they legally pass through our city on their difficult journey, and our city has stepped up to support our friends and neighbors with this effort,” he said. It’s time for the federal administration to step up and fulfill its legal responsibilities to these families, to our state and to our city.”
However, state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce says the lawsuit is invalid and Lujan Grisham has ulterior motives.
“Contrary to the governor’s claims, the Trump administration has been upholding our immigration laws,” Pearce told InsideSources. “The governor simply wants an open border policy that accepts all migrants, and she wants federal taxpayers to pay the bill.
“Her claim that the administration has not consulted communities is hypocritical, especially when you consider that she pulled the National Guard from assisting the Border Patrol without consulting the New Mexicans who have been pleading for help due to this crisis.”
The case is similar to one filed in San Diego, California, in April, which asked a judge to issue an injunction ordering the federal government to resume its safe release program. The case is still pending.