The city of Santa Fe is making preparations to temporarily house and help asylum-seekers who are crossing the southern New Mexico border in large numbers and inundating Las Cruces.
“We’re going to live our values in this situation,” said Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber, referring to the city’s immigrant-friendly reputation. “I think it will be something we can handle and make a contribution to and feel good about.”
Webber said he convened a meeting Tuesday afternoon with city staff, faith leaders, immigrant-rights advocates and others “to get a picture of what’s going on” and how Santa Fe could help.
“What we decided to do is reach out to Las Cruces and Albuquerque and to the Governor’s Office and get ready on how Santa Fe could be most helpful in responding to asylum-seekers,” he said.
After the meeting ended, Webber said he looked at his phone and saw he had a message from Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who had called to pitch a proposal for Santa Fe and Albuquerque to help Las Cruces handle the influx.
“I called him, and he said, ‘We really could use your help,’ ” Webber said.
Miyagishima said the Border Patrol initially told him Las Cruces would receive only 150 asylum-seekers.
“Almost the next day, they told us, ‘We’re going to be doing this every day and we don’t know when we’re going to stop,’ ” Miyagishima said. “It’s like, wow. It’s like, too much.”
Miyagishima said Las Cruces already has helped about 800 refugees get to sponsors in other parts of the country.
“But our guys on the ground, they’re tired. They’re overworked,” he said. “It’s nonstop. They’re bringing them at all hours of the night.”
Miyagishima said he hopes Santa Fe and Albuquerque can take turns, along with Las Cruces, in receiving busloads of asylum-seekers.
“We could easily handle 200, but not 200 a day, and that’s why I’m thinking if Santa Fe can do 150 to 200 every three days, I think it’s more manageable,” he said. “Right now, we just can’t handle it.”
Webber said Kyra Ochoa, the city’s community services director, and Emergency Management Director David Silver will be traveling to Las Cruces on Thursday with Jackie White, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Their purpose is to “get a briefing on the system that exists in Las Cruces for welcoming and processing asylum-seekers,” he said.
“We’ll reassemble the group that was here yesterday and begin setting up our support mechanisms for people coming as asylum-seekers through Santa Fe,” Webber said.
Webber said he met with White on Wednesday. She told him a vast majority of asylum-seekers are expected to move on.
“Most of them are not looking to settle in New Mexico,” Webber said. “In fact, they are transiting through New Mexico on their way to where their sponsors are in other parts of the country. We are really not a destination so much as a support station on the trail of getting people to where they’re trying to join either with family members or with sponsors who are in other parts of the United States.”
Miyagishima agreed, saying most asylum-seekers are off to their next destination within 24 to 48 hours.
“The ones that don’t move that fast, we’re finding that some of them are not coming with the credentials to fly,” he said. “They can ride a bus, but they can’t fly.”
Asked whether the city of Santa Fe would have to spend taxpayer money to shelter and aid asylum-seekers, Webber said he didn’t know. He said his finance director, Mary McCoy, asked White the same question.
“We’ll learn more when we get a report back from the visit to Las Cruces,” he said.
According to media reports, the Las Cruces City Council approved a $75,000 request earlier this week to pay for food, water, transportation and personal hygiene items for asylum-seekers.
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.