By Leslie Bronken
(DEMING, NM) On May 14, 2019 a meeting was held at the Deming Fairgrounds to discuss the status of the fair and the asylum seekers who had been transported to Deming by US Customs and Border Patrol. Approximately 150 people from the community arrived to listen to what government officials had to say and to ask questions.
On Saturday, city and county government officials were given next to no advance notice that CBP was going to drop off asylum seekers at two bus stops in Deming so they could catch buses to their sponsors' locations. CBP does not get involved in the process of helping asylum seekers contact their sponsors. There was no place to purchase tickets at these two bus stop locations. Government officials held a meeting and decided to find temporary shelter and secured building #1 at the fairgrounds. This decision was made so that the asylum seekers would not be roaming around homeless in Deming without any way to make contact with their sponsors.
A chain link fence was constructed around building #1. This fence will keep the asylum seekers separated from future scheduled youth events at the fairgrounds, which are anticipated to go on as scheduled.
Asylum seekers are not on lock down. They can leave the premises if they want to without having a ticket to the sponsor's destination. According to the county manager none have walked out; they just want to get to their sponsors. By the third day since this crisis started, building #1 was already beyond maximum capacity and officials informed that more arrivals are anticipated for an undetermined length of time.
One Homeland Security bus (shaped like a prisoner bus) was observed arriving at the old abandoned hangers at the airport about 1/2 mile west of the fairgrounds about 1/2 hour before the meeting started. During the meeting we learned that asylum seekers are being housed not only in Building #1 at the fairgrounds, but also the old airport hangers, and St. Ann's Church in Deming.
Volunteers have been helping the asylum seekers contact their sponsors and then helping them secure transportation. Volunteers are currently assisting 11 hours a day by bringing in laptops and connecting to a wireless hot spot to book tickets to destination points. These tickets are then printed out so the asylum seekers can depart the area. One volunteer spoke up and informed that a number of asylum seekers have obtained tickets to Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, and that some of them have allegedly been sent to the hospital in Deming.
A number of residents expressed concern about the cost of housing and feeding asylum seekers and pointed out that this is a community with limited resources. The county manager did not yet know how much this was costing local taxpayers on a daily basis. A significant number of residents applauded when one person suggested it would cost Luna County residents less to rent buses and ship asylum seekers to the State Capitol and let them deal with the problems since they have more resources.
NM Senator John Arthur Smith informed that a number of months ago he secured funding for just this type of situation and that he will make sure the local government gets some of this money. There is $750,000 available, and up to $7.5 million available thru extensions for emergencies such as this. Therefore the costs related to the asylum seekers will be born by all taxpayers in New Mexico, not just those counties on the border.
State Rep Candie Sweetser was present but did not address the community regarding this situation.
Although there were several media camera crews outside, and were invited in to cover the meeting, none were observed inside filming.
One anonymous government official informed that anyone who wishes to volunteer should only do so if all their immunizations are up to date. Although he did not state asylum seekers were ill, it was implied by his comment. Another anonymous volunteer suggested that head lice is a big problem.
On the commendable side, government officials have minimized the impact on the community to the extent that any communicable diseases and potential head lice are contained in one location. Any potential for crime by homeless asylum seekers has been contained by housing them in temporary locations until they can obtain transportation elsewhere.
On the negative side, at least some in law enforcement have been diverted to the fairgrounds instead of helping police criminals in our community. The impact on the local hospital is not yet known, including whether there are beds available for local residents should the need arise. It is also unknown what financial impact taxpayers will bear for medical related costs for any lab work, x-rays, or in-patient stays.
The bottom line to this crisis is the fault for this lays with U.S. Congress. Customs and Border Patrol, the President, and the entire executive branch of government has to work with the laws that have been passed by Congress. The President can not undo these laws all by himself. Congress created this problem.
Congress must change the immigration and asylum laws. Those lawmakers who do not want to change the laws (both at the federal and state levels) are furthering and enabling this crisis and should be voted out of office in 2020.
Anyone who needs additional information can contact the county manager's office at 575-546-0494.