Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber offered a mild mea culpa to concerned residents Saturday on what he called perhaps “the most significant moral issue of our time.”

“Our hearts were overruled by our heads on this decision,” Webber said, referring to his statement earlier this month that the city would temporarily house asylum-seekers crossing the U.S. border with Mexico. Last week, the mayor backtracked, saying the city was not well positioned to provide shelter to some of the Central American families and individuals who have been flooding ports of entry.

In the last couple of weeks, the U.S. Border Patrol has been busing large numbers of asylum-seekers — 100 to 200 a day, officials say — from El Paso to Las Cruces, whose City Council last week approved $500,000 to address their needs. The city has been stretched thin in an effort to shelter and care for the steady surge of migrants.

Looking more closely at the issue in meetings with the mayors of Las Cruces and Albuquerque, and representatives from the Governor’s Office, Webber told a crowd gathered Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe, he concluded the city was better equipped to raise money, organize volunteers and collect clothing, food and other donations for the many families fleeing violence in their home countries.

Webber spoke to about 200 people at an immigration forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County; many of them seemed to be looking for more concrete steps to help.

Those steps are still being laid.

The question, Webber said, is “How do we make the most impact?”

While the city was prepared to launch a housing program, he said, “we looked at it, and we analyzed it. It’s a systems problem and a logistics problem as much as it is a human problem.”

The migrants have been filling temporary shelters in El Paso and Las Cruces, and now Albuquerque, before traveling to join sponsors — primarily in other states — as they await judicial asylum hearings.

The city of Santa Fe realized that Albuquerque, as a larger transportation hub, would be better suited to deliver asylum-seekers to their next destinations, Webber said.

The city is working to set up a page on its website “as soon as possible” to direct residents who want to volunteer or donate, he added, and it is bringing in a coordinator to begin the project Monday.

The group Retake Our Democracy now has posted on its website a list of ways for Santa Feans to donate supplies for asylum-seekers or contribute to area immigrant rights organizations.

Webber emphasized the importance of continuing to help the immigrant community in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico, who are subject to wage theft and actions by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“Whatever else goes on, those people are just as important as the asylum-seekers who are coming here to look for help, and deserve our help,” he said.

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