Feds owe New Mexico town $300,000 for migrant care

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Governor recognizes Deming's efforts amid immigration surge

DEMING, New Mexico (Border Report) — The migrant shelters are now empty, but one southern New Mexico community is still dealing with the aftermath of this year’s surge of Central Americans.

The City of Deming and Luna County issued emergency declarations after asylum seekers overwhelmed the local Border Patrol station in May. The agency closed a highway checkpoint, leading to residents’ fears of drug and immigrant smuggling and the federal government began transferring migrants caught near El Paso, Texas to Deming.

“A lot of our citizens had a sense of panic,” said Laura Holguin, the city’s finance director. “The huge number of migrants were coming and we didn’t believe we would be able to handle if they had just been released into our community. As a city, we felt it was best to take in the migrants and get them to their next destination, wherever that might be.”

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According to Holguin, Deming spent about $300,000 in food, health care, food and security for around 7,000 migrants who stayed at the Southwest New Mexico State Fairgrounds, an airport hangar and a vacant armory. She says the city has yet to be reimbursed by the federal government.

Holguin described an environment of concern from residents who “didn’t understand about the migrants coming here or how they would get to their destination.”

Slowly, many people in the town became part of the migrant-relief effort.

“We pulled a lot of overtime for police, fire and EMS. police overtime,” Holguin said. “We had some employees were willing to go out there and do whatever we needed them to do, so they did get overtime to maintain sanitation.”

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Deming residents participated in the intake and processing of migrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. Those who were qualified to do so provided health screenings and other employees contacted possible sponsors for them.

“They made sure arrangements were made to transport them to bus facilities or airports depending on what kind of ticket they had,” Holguin said.

FILE – In this Wednesday, May 22, 2019 file photo migrants mainly from Central America guide their children through the entrance of a World War II-era bomber hanger in Deming, N.M. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio, File)

Today, the migrant surge has reduced to a trickle, in large part due to Mexico stopping Central Americans at the border with Guatemala. Holguin adds that the residents’ concern is no longer about security, but getting federal reimbursement for all the resources spent.

The efforts from the people in Deming didn’t go unnoticed at the state level. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an emergency grant and last Monday gave the City of Deming a humanitarian award for its help with asylum seekers. The state has sued the federal government to recoup spending by local governments to shelter and feed migrants.

Meantime, this quiet town along Interstate 10 and 35 miles north of the border with Mexico is trying to return to its tranquil normalcy.

“The City of Deming is very welcoming and very open and whenever there is a situation at hand the community always pulls together and helps out,” Holguin said.

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