There is a lot I love about where I grew up, but nothing compares to the pride I felt when Southern New Mexicans welcomed people in need this summer.
The people of Deming, for example, did with little resources what our federal government has failed to: They showed up for their neighbors. They tried to have a safe, orderly process for newly arriving refugees. Contrast that with the president, who continues to pour billions of tax dollars into the wall, along with more and more prisons.
Over the past year, the Trump administration has executed many policies to prevent refugees from being protected from dangerous conditions. These policies have created uncertainty and instability across the border region — including in many New Mexican communities. Through their anti-refugee approach, the administration is demonstrating carelessness, lawlessness and is putting lives in jeopardy at every turn. Despite this, several of our New Mexican communities have stepped up to let our moral values prevail.
In June 2019, authorities began dropping off a high number of asylum-seekers in border towns such as Deming. This took place after the Trump administration terminated the Obama-era “Safe Release” policy. Safe Release coordinated the placement of asylum-seekers in communities to await their asylum hearings. Absent this coordination, chaos and bureaucratic insecurity became the norm.
After months of waiting in Mexico, refugees are sent to the administration’s illegal desert tent courts. There, cases are rushed through by the hundreds and almost no legal representation is present. Preventing due process and sending refugees to dangerous areas accomplishes the exact opposite of what asylum should be about.
To this day, administration policies fuel chaos in border communities. It has become the perfect excuse to implement additional anti-refugee policies. If things were bad, the administration has made them worse.
To avoid admitting asylum-seekers, they adopted the Migrant Protection Protocols. The program sends refugees to wait in Mexico for months in areas so dangerous, the U.S. does not allow government officials to travel there. This places refugees in situations of extreme danger as they await their hearings. It also puts the burden on communities in Mexico to pick up the pieces. Upending our asylum system only leads to more devastation for migrants in need.
Let’s remember this basic truth: Refugees coming to our southern border are escaping real, dangerous threats to their lives and well-being. Organizations across El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico have said refugees are being displaced by persecution from their governments and/or organized crime. Simply stopping people from seeking asylum does not improve the conditions that make people flee. In fact, it makes the humanitarian crisis that much worse.
Even in the absence of leadership from the president, Congress can support strong refugee protection as part of ongoing spending negotiations. New Mexico’s U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have been champions for both New Mexico and for refugees in dire need. In fact, members of our entire House delegation — Deb Haaland, Xochitl Torres Small and Ben Ray Luján — have been active in beating back administration attacks on refugees and refugee protections. They must keep the pressure on.
To do this, Congress must cease funding the machinery behind these injustices. They must prohibit President Donald Trump from spending unauthorized tax dollars to keep migrants in Mexico or caged while they scramble to build their legal case. Our tax dollars should bolster border communities like Deming that are helping people to safely access their legal right to seek asylum. Congress should focus on reimbursing localities for shelter support, legal services and basic needs. Congress should be funding more judges to hear cases in real courts and fewer detention beds for refugees to suffer in.
For decades, New Mexicans have stood for open-arms and protection, not bars, cages and secret courts. Let’s put our tax dollars where our values are.
Karla Molinar-Arvizo is the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s program assistant for immigration and refugee policy. She also co-founded New Mexico Dream Team, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the state. Prior to joining FCNL, she worked at the Institute for Policy Studies as the New Mexico Fellow.