By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
LAS CRUCES – Assistant City Manager “William” Bill Studer Jr. was unanimously appointed interim city manager during an April 25 special meeting of the Las Cruces City Council.
Studer replaces former City Manager Stuart Ed, who resigned suddenly April 22. Studer’s appointment began April 25 and is for a period of up to six months. The appointment includes a temporary 10 percent pay increase for Studer, whose current salary is $132,540, according to the city website.
At the special meeting, the council also voted unanimously (6-0, Mayor Pro Tem Gill Sorg attended part of the special meeting telephonically but was not on the phone when the vote was taken) to make $500,000 available from the city’s Telshor Facility Fund (TFF) to pay for city resources for public safety and humanitarian assistance in providing temporary care for asylum seekers coming across the U.S.-Mexico border who are being brought to Las Cruces by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). The funding is retroactive to April 12 and will be available through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
The $500,000 will be available to pay for bus and airfare, rental of vans and charter buses; city staff costs, including overtime; interpreters; meals; and other services, said Assistant City Manager David Dollahon. The rental vehicles, he said, are to transport asylum seekers to other cities that are assisting Las Cruces in getting them to their final destinations.
“We’re the only city in New Mexico that has stepped up to this level for this long,” Dollahon said. “I’ve never been more proud to be a member of this staff and a Las Crucen. This has been an all-hands-on-deck,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”
“The city has relied on non-governmental agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers thus far,” city Qualify of Life Director Dr. Lynn Gallagher said at the special meeting.
The $500,000 will be available to the city to supplement those efforts if needed, she said. The city also may receive donations from national partners, Gallagher said.
The city’s elected officials “took an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of the United States,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said. “There’s actually a federal law that allows for asylum seekers and refugees,” he said. “We have to uphold the law. Border Patrol is the one who brings them.”
“The city recognizes the magnitude of the influx of immigrants may increase,” city staff said in the executive summary of the resolution the council approved at the April 25 meeting.
“Therefore, an additional budget adjustment would allow for funding of contingency expenses in the event emergency immigrant refugee humanitarian assistance is needed by the city.” The funds would pay for temporary shelter, food, water, emergency transportation, toiletries and other items for the immigrants, the city said.
TFF was created by the city council in October 2004 with proceeds from the pre-paid lease of Memorial Medical Center to Providence Healthcare Company, according to city documents. The fund currently contains about $34 million.
Dollahon said the city has entered into a lease for the former armory at 1300 Brown Road to temporarily house asylum seekers. The lease is for 60 days with a renewal option and includes a provision for a possible longer-term lease, he said.
Some Las Crucens see the city providing aid to asylum seekers as “just a bunch of goodie two shoes trying to help people with taxpayers’ dollars. I can understand that point of view,” Councilor Jack Eakman said. “I hope you can somehow understand that these are fellow travelers on our earth and just because they’re of a different color and a different race and a different language doesn’t mean they’re any less than you or I.”
Several Las Crucens spoke during the public comments section of the meeting, some praising the allocation, some criticizing it.
“Why do we have to be politically correct in calling them travelers and asylum seekers? They are invaders, they are illegal,” said Josie Martinez during public input at the special meeting. “They are breaking our laws. I don’t appreciate people who don’t want to call it what it is. I do appreciate your big hearts in helping people. I myself am on the opposite side. I refuse to help people that don’t abide by our laws, that don’t come in the way they should. What is being done … to ensure that the women and children are not being trafficked?”
“Gospel Rescue Mission (GRM) was tagged as the primary central processing center for the all the vans that were coming in,” said GRM board chair Dr. Brian Ormand. GRM is implementing a new work ethic program for its homeless clients, he said. “The homeless people went from doing four-hour-a-week chores to working 18-hour days. They “really stepped up.”
The city has two options in dealing with asylum seekers, said Alex Luna, an organizer from the nonprofit New Mexico CAFé: “Leave them on the street to roam and fend for themselves or we actually live up to the values of actually loving our neighbors and showing the support that is needed. I was on the ground. I was with families where the vast majority are women and moms and their children just looking for an opportunity to be safe and to have a home. What type of community are we? Are we one that serves and helps those who are in need? Are we the ones who choose who is worthy and unworthy to serve?”
Mike Cook may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.