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Governor sues Trump administration over immigrant drop-offs, federal funding

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By Jill McLaughlin

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the City of Albuquerque filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Mexico Monday in an attempt to stop President Trump’s administration from releasing immigrants into the state’s borderland area.

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The lawsuit claims the federal government did not inform or ask for input from the affected communities and asks the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction of the abandonment of government's safe release policy.

The complaint also seeks assistance for asylum-seeking immigrants and families, and asks the court to require the federal government pay the state and Albuquerque back for all costs related to caring for the immigrants released by the federal government.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind by a state, according to the Associated Press. It resembles a suit by San Diego County in April also challenging the cancellation of an immigration program that helped migrants with phone calls and other travel logistics as they sought out final destinations throughout the United States. Now asylum seeking migrants typically are released almost immediately.

The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment to the AP on the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, New Mexico and Albuquerque claim the Trump Administration’s practice of releasing immigrants in borderland communities is in violation of the federal government’s “safe release” policy. The state and Albuquerque claim this leaves vulnerable people and families without assistance and burdens local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations.

The complaint seeks reimbursement for the costs incurred by the state as a result of the federal government’s “derogation of duty to administer this country’s immigration system and claims of asylum.”

Albuquerque has claimed sanctuary status. The city council voted in April 2018 to reaffirm a resolution barring city resources from identifying or detaining undocumented immigrants.

Democratic state lawmakers proposed bills to make New Mexico a sanctuary state in January but the bills failed. Lawmakers failed to adopt identical Democratic proposals introduced in the New Mexico House and Senate that would have required state agencies be barred from cooperating with federal immigration authorities seeking to hold or deport immigrants suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

Lujan Grisham, who campaigned as a Trump protester, released a video of herself crashing through walls in opposition to the president’s wall.

The governor also withdrew National Guard troops from the border at the start of the boom of immigrants coming across into New Mexico Feb. 5, calling the migrant crisis a “charade.”

"We will support our neighbors where the need for assistance is great, and we will offer a helping hand when we can to those vulnerable people who arrive at our border, but New Mexico will not take part in the president's charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops,” Lujan Grisham said in a release Feb. 5.

Since then, Otero County and the City of Deming have declared a state of emergency after becoming overwhelmed with immigrants arriving daily. The state has seen record numbers of migrants crossing into the state in recent months. Agents made 132,887 apprehensions in May, the first time that apprehensions have topped 100,000 since April 2007.

The governor traveled to Washington, D.C., in May to seek federal reimbursement for the humanitarian assistance, more federal staffing and resources, and for better communication about when and where migrants are being dropped off, her spokesman told the Albuqerque Journal. Lujan Grisham met with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan May 22, in Washington, D.C., for one hour, between 6-7 p.m., according to her calendar. 

However, the governor and her communications staff have not said whether the discussions resulted in any funding or staffing for the state.

A request by the Los Alamos Monitor was made twice last week to Secretary McAleenan’s office to find out the results of the meeting, but no answer was returned by the office.

The state and city are asking the court to vacate the federal government's termination of its safe release policy, as it is without legal force or effect; issue preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the named defendants to provide asylum-seeking individuals and families the equivalent assistance to that provided under the safe release policy; and require a reimbursement of the expenses the state and city have incurred in response to what they are calling an unlawful abandonment of the safe release policy.

The complaint names McAleenan, Acting Director Mark Morgan of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Deputy Director Matthew Albence of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Executive Associate Director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Nathalie Asher and Carla Provost, the chief of U.S. Border Patrol.

"The Trump administration has consistently and flagrantly failed in its response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border as well as in addressing legitimate border security concerns," Lujan Grisham said.

The Albuquerque mayor said the city’s faith-based organizations have had to step up to help struggling families and it was now time for the federal government to fulfill its legal responsibilities to these families.

"Local faith-based organizations and volunteers have been left to clean up the federal administration's immigration mess," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said. "By abandoning the 'safe release' policy, the federal government has abandoned the border states.

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06_10_19_complaint.pdf4.22 MB