Border state challenges quick-release asylum practices

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico and its largest city sued the Trump administration Monday in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit from a state seeking to stem the quick release of asylum seeking migrants into local communities and claim reimbursement for humanitarian efforts to shelter migrants temporarily.

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham cited a "derogation of duty" in announcing the lawsuit against acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and top federal immigration officials, with Albuquerque listed as co-plaintiff.

President Donald Trump, she said in a statement, "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."

The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted Monday.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind by a state. It resembles a suit filed by San Diego County in April also challenging the cancellation of the federal immigration program that helped migrants with phone calls and other travel logistics as they pursue final destinations across the U.S.

That federal "safe release" program was canceled in October 2018 amid a tide of migration from Central America into the United States. Asylum seekers typically are released almost immediately, while New Mexico cities including Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Deming have borne some of the brunt.

"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," the lawsuit states. "State and local governments have been forced to step in."

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Albuquerque, seeks reinstatement of the prior federal assistance to asylum seekers.

Since April, about 9,000 asylum seekers have been left in Las Cruces, a city of about 100,000 residents, the lawsuit estimates. It says that Deming, population 14,000, has received about 4,700 migrants.

Albuquerque, located about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of ports of entry with Mexico at El Paso, receives about 150 to 250 asylum seekers a week. The city has set aside $250,000 for its humanitarian efforts.

The state has paid out $750,000 in emergency grants to local governments to offset spending as a result of the change in federal asylum practices, while mobilizing employees from several state agencies.

Migrant families typically stay one or two nights in a local shelter before moving on to find relatives or other hosts throughout the U.S.

Families arriving at the border have long been released from custody and allowed to settle in the U.S. with family or friends while their cases wind their way through the courts, a process that often takes years.

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