Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office on Monday announced a lawsuit seeking to stop the Trump administration’s policy of releasing asylum-seekers from Central America into communities near the southern border without any assistance.
The lawsuit, in which the state and the city of Albuquerque are plaintiffs, says the administration’s policy has left the surging number of asylum-seekers and their family members in New Mexico “without adequate means to travel to a final destination or basic life necessities such as food, clothing and healthcare.”
“This case arises from the federal government’s sudden and unlawful abandonment of its longstanding Safe Release policy, under which it provided needed assistance to asylum seekers — who are legally present in the United States by virtue of their asylum claims and related federal law — in reaching their final destinations while they waited for their claims to be processed,” the lawsuit says.
The complaint says the federal government changed the policy without notice or opportunity for input, effectively transferring its “basic humanitarian obligation to state and local governments.”
In a news release, the governor said President Donald Trump’s administration “has consistently and flagrantly failed in its response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border as well as in addressing legitimate border security concerns. 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.”
The release also said, “While the state and border communities have endeavored to avert an escalation of the humanitarian crisis [Trump’s] policy has exacerbated, New Mexico’s efforts have come at great cost, and there exists no time line for a cessation or easing of the situation.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in the release, “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.”
The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for the costs incurred by the state as a result of the federal government’s policy change and asks the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the federal government to provide asylum-seekers the same kind of assistance they received under the old safe release policy.
Listed as defendants are acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and various other federal immigration officials under Homeland Security.
Efforts to get a response from the department were unsuccessful Monday. The Associated Press reported the U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Lujan Grisham met with McAleenan during a trip to Washington, D.C., last month to discuss issues raised in the suit.
Shortly before that trip, the governor announced the state would offer grants to reimburse local government agencies that provide humanitarian aid to migrants. The Legislature this year set aside $2.5 million for border security.
According to the lawsuit, under the old policy immigration officers assisted asylum-seekers by confirming travel plans, coordinating assistance to them through religious and charitable organizations, helping them communicate with family members, and sometimes even driving them to airports, train stations or bus stations.
“Asylum seekers would generally arrive at their final destinations within three days,” the complaint said.
In April, San Diego County filed a similar lawsuit against the federal government in U.S. District Court in Southern California.