LAS CRUCES — New Mexico is preparing to welcome 400 refugees who fled Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August, and groups are seeking volunteers and donations to help with the effort.
About 100 of those refugees are expected to resettle in Las Cruces, according to officials with Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, the state’s primary nongovernmental refugee resettlement organization. The remainder are expected to relocate to Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Kyra Ochoa, the city of Santa Fe’s community health and safety director, said she and Mayor Alan Webber met with Lutheran Family Services representatives last month.
“We understood that they wanted to relocate 100 Afghan refugees to Santa Fe, so they were basically asking for Santa Fe’s sort of statement of welcome to these folks,” she said.
On Sept. 29, the City Council passed a resolution sponsored by Webber affirming Santa Fe’s support for the resettlement of Afghan refugees and pledging “to continue to work with leaders across all sectors to identify ways to support the integration of these newcomers to the United States.”
The 100 people Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains wants to bring to Santa Fe represent about 20 families, Ochoa said.
“Where they will be housed, we don’t know, but if there is space on [the midtown campus], we’re open to looking at that,” she said. “I am, anyway. I shouldn’t speak for the entire midtown team, but we’re definitely open to looking at that.”
Ochoa said city government can “certainly explore” whether it has any space to host any of the refugees.
“There’s a lot of will in the community to welcome these folks who have been through so much and been such allies to the United States,” she said.
Andrew Byrd, the Southern New Mexico coordinator for Lutheran Family Services, told the Las Cruces Sun-News Afghan refugees are expected to relocate to the Southern New Mexico city by March 2022. He said the numbers for the state and each city are projected capacities submitted by his group to the federal government.
The organization could not be reached for comment on plans to relocate refugees in Santa Fe.
Some Afghan refugees are being sheltered at nearby military installations as they are connected with resettlement organizations.
At Holloman Air Force Base, Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Range Complex and other military installations around the country, officials have said refugees are tested for COVID-19 before arriving. Once on base, they undergo further medical screening and can apply for immigration status and work authorizations before resettlement organizations place them into communities.
The Lutheran Family Services Las Cruces office partnered with the Muslim Student Association at New Mexico State University to help refugees once they arrive. The groups have asked for volunteers who can serve as translators and transport donated goods. They’ve also asked people to donate money; furniture; electronics, such as phones and laptops; and school supplies.
Daniel J. Chacón of The New Mexican contributed to this report.