Advocates packed the Albuquerque City Council chambers Monday night in support of a resolution to spend $250,000 to help care for migrants passing through the city as they seek asylum. Support for the measure was overwhelming, but not unanimous, and it passed by a vote of 6 to 3.
The Department of Homeland Security has dropped off more than 2,000 people in Albuquerque since March. The asylum seekers have all needed the basics – food, shelter, sometimes medical attention after traveling for many days – and many of the volunteers who’ve been providing those basics showed up on Monday night to tell the city officials what they’ve seen.
"I’ve held three-year-olds who cried for their mothers, and their mothers didn’t cross with them," said Sayrah Namaste, a single mom in Albuquerque who’s been volunteering with the migrants in Las Cruces since last year. She says she was there the day after Christmas when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement dropped people off in El Paso in the middle of the night, and she says the city was not prepared.
"This is forward thinking," said Namaste. "People are coming to our city, and the city should respond, along with all of us who have been volunteering."
All around the room, people wore orange shirts in solidarity with the New Mexico Dream Team and the faith-based organizations doing the bulk of the aid work.
Beatriz Valencia with Albuquerque Interfaith said she identifies with what the migrant families are going through, many of them fleeing violence or unrest.
"I’m a Latina that is an immigrant, myself," said Valencia, "and I saw these types of things happening in my country. But I was a kid, I was not able to do anything about it! But here in the U.S., you have the possibility to do something."
"I have a wife and kids," said Steve Morrison, who volunteered with Catholic Charities after hearing Mayor Tim Keller's call for help, "I cannot imagine the family conversation to decide which parent and which child to take on a one-way journey, with the hopes of someday being reunited."
"At the risk of alienating my friends in orange," Morrison continued, "I’m a registered Republican. I'm a social conservative. I’m white, obviously. This should not be a political issue. This is a human issue. Please, be human."
Michelle Melendez, who heads the City's Equity and Inclusion Office, said the asylum seekers have presented themselves to border officials. They’ve had to interview about why they’re afraid to return home, and after a thorough vetting, they’ve been given immigration documents to travel in the U.S. until they’re scheduled to appear in immigration court.
"So they stay our city for just a few days," she explained, "as they’re connecting with their sponsor, who has been listed on those immigration documents as the person responsible for getting them to their court date."
Melendez said that community members spent tens of thousands of dollars feeding migrants and putting them up in hotels, before the state made dormitories available at Expo New Mexico. Church retreat centers and places of worship have also opened their doors to shelter people.
Nearly four dozen people signed up to comment on the resolution, which was sponsored by Councilor Pat Davis.
Several argued against the measure, saying that the city should spend that public money helping its own residents.
"My voice is for those who are being hungry in this town every single day," said Adelius DeStith, a veteran and a father of five who lives in Albuquerque. "Unfortunately, I have to see veterans standing on the corners begging... We have serious problems! How can we be reasonable and responsible adults and leaders and not take care of our own children, but we are willing to take taxpayer dollars to help someone else? How can we do that?"
The City Council voted along party lines, and a cheer went up as the measure was approved.
"I’m actually really excited!" said Luis Leyba, a graduating senior at UNM and advocacy lead with the New Mexico Dream Team. "We knew that we had the support of the councilors."
"Because we are one of the only Spanish-speaking organizations that does this job," Leyba explained, "we call the sponsors, we arrange those travels, and we make sure they have the ticket and they will get home safe."
The $250,000 will come out of the city’s nearly billion dollar budget, and go mostly to the handful of organizations that have been providing humanitarian aid since March.
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