Las Cruces City Council’s refugee vote supported by majority of speakers

Las Cruces City Council’s refugee vote supported by majority of speakers

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Temple Beth-El Rabbi Larry Karol speaks in favor of a Las Cruces City Council resolution allowing the city to spend up to $75,000 for emergency refugee humanitarian assistance at the council’s April 15 meeting. (Bulletin photo by Mike Cook)

By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin

LAS CRUCES – After more than two hours of discussion at its Monday, April 15 meeting, the Las Cruces City Council voted unanimously to spend $75,000 for emergency immigrant refugee humanitarian assistance. The input ensued after the measure was moved from the consent agenda to the discussion agenda.

In a resolution passed at a special meeting that followed the council meeting, councilors voted to allow the funds to be spent in Doña Ana or El Paso counties, as the city assists local agencies in processing the hundreds of immigrants – mostly women and children, supporters said, from Central and South America – who have come to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum in the United States.

The U.S. Border Patrol began bringing the immigrants, who have legal status as asylum seekers, to Las Cruces, where they are being temporarily housed, fed, given medical attention and put on buses or planes to transport them to their sponsors in other parts of the U.S.

The $75,000 will come from the city’s Telshor Facility Fund (TFF), which was created by the council in October 2004 with proceeds from the pre-paid lease of Memorial Medical Center to Providence Healthcare Company, according to city documents. The money will be taken from interest earned on the $25 million in the fund, Mayor Ken Miyagishima said.

“My spirit has really been lifted by what this community has done,” Councilor Gabe Vasquez said. Las Cruces, he said, is “a giving and loving community.”

“Folks are folks no matter where they come from,” Councilor Kasandra Gandara said. “I’m proud to be a welcoming city.”

“This city stepped up,” Councilor Greg Smith said. “We were not given a choice.” The federal government chose to “drop them on our streets and leave them to fend for themselves. We can do this,” Smith said. “We are doing this.”

“Things that are going on now are really heartwarming,” Mayor Pro-Tem Gill Sorg Said. “I only wish we could do more. Hopefully, one day we can look back and say, ‘Yeah, we did well.’”

“Read your history,” Councilor Yvonne Flores said. “Read about what’s going on in Central America. You will see a lot of people coming here have been displaced by actions taken by the United States. They’re not coming here to go to Disneyland. In caring for the immigrants, the city will at least put a little bit of a Band Aid on this horrible situation we’re faced with.”

By having “an organized response to the influx of asylum seekers,” the city is spending less than it otherwise would be to temporarily care for “women and children looking for a bit of help in our town,” Councilor Jack Eakman said. “The alternative to an organized response is an unknown we can’t afford,” he said.

The $75,000 allocation is “an appropriate amount to provide resources without having to go through additional procurement requirements,” City Quality of Life Department Director Dr. Lynn Gallagher said.

The city will work with the joint city-Doña Ana County Office of Emergency Management on the appropriate allocation of city resources, she added.

What they said

The following quotes are from some of the 33 people, most in favor of the expenditure, who spoke at the meeting during public comment:

Interpreter Liz Johnson said an immigrant she spoke to pleaded with her not to be separated from her daughters. “She was really talking to the United States,” Johnson said.

“Thank you for partnering with us,” said Doña Ana County Commissioner Shannon Reynolds, who added that the county has allocated $50,000 for the relief effort.

“What I have seen in the past two days is abundant generosity,” said Yolanda Bencomo, organizer for the Las Cruces nonprofit Communities in Action & Faith (CAFé). The situation nationally is “a humanitarian disgrace,” she said. The U.S. “had the opportunity to show the world what it means to be an American and we failed.”

The U.S. is violating the Constitution by “not allowing these people to seek asylum in this country,” said Enselmo Delgado-Martinez. “It’s the soul of America that is in peril right now.”

“We do not know who they are,” said Bianca Zamora Kertson, who identified herself as the wife of a Border Patrol agent and daughter of a legal immigrant to the U.S. The immigrants coming to Las Cruces have not been properly vetted for disease, vaccinations or criminal status, she said. Zamora Kertson said she did not feel safe with her daughter at a park near Meerscheidt Recreation Center, which was temporarily closed so immigrants could be housed there.

“The world and the nation are watching right now,” said El Calvario United Methodist Church Pastor George Miler. “We’re taking the lead on how the world and the nation can live together.”

“This is an opportunity to really shine in leadership,” said Casa de Peregrinos emergency food program Executive Director Lorenzo Alba, who said he is the son of an immigrant. “We’ve made a commitment to the hungry, to help the poor. This is what we do. This is who I am. This is my mission. This is our mission.”

The city is “doing the right thing in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and national failure,” said state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Doña Ana.

“We are all a nation of descendants from immigrants,” said Sandra Gomez.

“What kind of price do you put on love and compassion?” asked Jesse Brennan. He also asked the council what the city’s long-term plan for is dealing with the crisis. “How long will $75,000 last,” he said. “We don’t have deep pockets here in New Mexico, especially Las Cruces.”

“I’m so proud of our city and what we’re doing in this crisis,” said former city councilor Sharon Thomas. “We’re all over the national networks. Everybody’s talking about us.”

“What is the city’s immigration policy?” asked Vince Jeffers. “Who’s keeping statistics? You guys have created a lot of this and you won’t take responsibility for it.”

“You can do a great deal more,” said Betty Bishop. City officials, she said, should use their influence “all the way to the top” to press for immigration reform.

“Just because we have the money doesn’t mean we have to spend it,” said Laurie English. Those who are against the city’s allocation for emergency relief for immigrants “doesn’t mean they hate these people. It just means they want to be a little more reasonable.”

Mike Cook may be contacted at mike@lascrucesbulletin.com.

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