By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. lawyers want a judge to dismiss claims by New Mexico that immigration officials shirked their duties earlier this year by quickly releasing thousands of mostly Central American migrants into communities after they crossed into the United States.
New Mexico claimed in a lawsuit filed in June that the practice left Las Cruces, Deming and other communities to pick up the tab for housing and feeding the asylum-seekers until they moved on to find relatives or other hosts elsewhere in the U.S.
In addition to seeking an end to the catch-and-release practice, the state sought reimbursement for humanitarian efforts to temporarily shelter migrants. The state resorted to issuing its own grants to help communities with the costs.
U.S. District Judge James Browning is scheduled Wednesday to hear the government’s motion for dismissal. It’s unclear how soon a ruling could be issued.
First-year Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies, cited a “derogation of duty” when she announced the lawsuit against then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and top immigration officials. The city of Albuquerque was listed as a co-plaintiff.
The complaint resembled a suit filed by San Diego County in April that challenged the cancellation of a federal program that helped migrants with phone calls and other travel logistics as they sought final destinations across the U.S.
The quick releases in New Mexico came as the border was inundated with migrants seeking asylum. At times, groups of 300 or more people showed up at remote outposts, including the crossings at Antelope Wells and at Sunland Park, closer to El Paso, Texas.
In May, at the height of immigrant apprehensions the El Paso Sector —which includes New Mexico’s stretch of the border— saw nearly 30,000 families come through. The numbers dropped quickly over the summer in the busiest crossing spots, the result of several policies making it nearly impossible to gain asylum in the U.S.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation was able to secure $30 million in grants for communities and organizations that aided asylum seekers. The first wave of supplemental funding came in October, but the state at the time said its application for reimbursement from the U.S. government was pending.
Details on the amount of reimbursement being sought were not immediately available.