Back in October, when the Trump administration started what the Associated Press has called it’s “chokehold” on legal applications for asylum at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, the then-commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said of the policy, apparently with a straight face, “It’s not turning people away, it’s asking them to wait.” That was then and now, the former commissioner, Kevin McAleenan is acting Homeland Security Secretary, and the wait for an interview during which an asylum application can be legally filed is, at several different ports of entry, anywhere from 40 to 60 days.
After migrants determined to get to the United States “in the legal way” have their interview, they are then returned to Mexico to wait for a court hearing that could be years away.
No wonder more and more migrants are choosing not to wait, for an asylum interview, or for their day in court. Instead, the new normal for Central American migrancy, families with young children, are crossing the border illegally, surrendering to authorities and filing their papers claiming asylum. In April, 109,144 migrants (the most of any month since 2007) were detained by the Border Patrol.
Although there are reports of hundreds of unoccupied beds in federal detention facilities, those beds can be far away from where the migrants have been arrested. So, thousands of migrant families are being driven in Border Patrol buses and dumped in towns closer at hand.
Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city of about 100,000, was accepting and processing migrants, starting April 12, at a rate of close to 1000 a week, and according to Las Cruces Sun columnist Peter Goodman, “Our community is responding beautifully.”
“They come here with literally the clothes on their back,” Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said. “They haven’t showered, their clothes are dirty. We are reaching out to our volunteers to get their clothes cleaned. They’re dehydrated, so we give them bottles of water. People in the city are dropping off nonperishable foods so they can eat.”
Schools, churches and public buildings have been turned into temporary shelters, the city council has leased an old armory to house refugees, and authorized spending up to $500,000.
“Las Cruces didn’t ask for this challenge,” Peter Goodman wrote, “But in working together … Las Crucens have found satisfaction and even joy.
“But,” Goodman added, two weeks ago, two weeks after the migrants were being dumped on the city, “this ain’t sustainable.”
Since then, two other New Mexico cities, the much larger Albuquerque, and the 30 percent smaller state capitol, Santa Fe have volunteered to take a share of the burden.
For Albuquerque, that’s also meant migrants in the thousands. The City Council just appropriated $250,000 to help pay for their care.
Algernon D’Ammassa covers the borderland region for the Las Cruces Sun.