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Webber: Plan to help with migrants expected by early next week

April 20, 2019 GMT

Santa Fe city officials are continuing to work on a plan to help other cities in New Mexico provide humanitarian aid to the large number of migrants crossing the state’s border with Mexico in search of asylum.

Whether the plan will include offering asylum-seekers, many of them from Central America, temporary shelter in Santa Fe remains to be seen.

“Our main goal is to be supportive, helpful and do everything we can to add to the effort to handle this in a smooth, efficient and humane way,” Mayor Alan Webber said Friday. “The best thing that we can do is find out from all the people who are very actively involved what kind of a contribution Santa Fe can make.”

In the meantime, Webber asked community members who want to help to wait until the city has a plan.

“My request is for people to stay actively engaged and caring and committed but wait for us for get a system set up,” the mayor said. “We want that help, and it’s greatly appreciated, but let us get our system and answers together and then we’ll have a very clear answer for the best way for people to help.”

Webber said he expects to have a plan in place by early next week. “We will be revisiting it over the weekend and convening on Monday morning,” he said.

Webber said two of his administration’s executives, Community Services Director Kyra Ochoa and Emergency Management Director David Silver, traveled to Las Cruces on a fact-finding mission Thursday. Their trip came after the mayor of Las Cruces, which has been inundated with an influx of asylum-seekers, reached out to Webber and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller earlier this week to ask for help.

Lowell Briggs, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, called the behind-the-scenes coordination “superb.” But he acknowledged that the number of asylum-seekers has taxed resources.

“Volume is an issue,” he said. “No one will dispute that.”

While Ochoa was attending a training related to asylum-seekers Friday in Albuquerque, Webber said Silver told him it was both “humbling and amazing” to see how Las Cruces was responding to the situation.

“The faith-based community has been really remarkable in their response,” Webber said after receiving a briefing from Silver. “Volunteers are taking on much of the load of intake and coordination of the logistics with the asylum seekers and also coordination of donations from people who want to make a difference and a contribution to help people as they’re passing through Las Cruces.”

Rabbi Neil Amswych, co-president of the Interfaith Leadership Alliance of Santa Fe, said he still doesn’t know what role the organization will take in local humanitarian efforts but that it will be significant.

“This is the time for members of all faith communities to come together to help those in desperate need,” Amswych, rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom, said in an email. “This is not the time for only thoughts and prayers, or mere good intentions. This is the time to show the world with real action what our faith stands for.”

While Webber said the city has been receiving “a lot of really heartfelt offers” to help asylum-seekers, his plan touched a nerve with some residents, including some who said the city should first do more to help the homeless in the community before taking on refugees.

Amswych said the issues of homelessness and asylum-seekers are not separate. He said the policy of President Donald Trump’s administration “specifically increases homelessness by dumping these people on the streets.”

“Santa Fe is an extraordinary city because we live our values openly,” he wrote. “We are a ‘sanctuary city,’ which means we provide sanctuary to all in need. If some Santa Feans are concerned that one particular group of people might be ignored, then step up and help that group. Santa Fe is not the civic administration, it is all of us. We all need to be involved supporting those in need.”

In Las Cruces, Webber said, asylum-seekers are “for the most part” staying no more than 72 hours before heading to their final destinations to meet up with sponsors.

“It sounded like probably the number one issue is logistics, dealing with getting people to places to stay,” he said, or arranging transportation.

Webber said the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces has helped fill that void, paying for migrants’ up-front travel costs.

“According to [Silver], they’ve just been amazing in their ability and willingness to step up and provide the funds on the front end and then get reimbursed from the families” or asylum-seekers’ sponsors, he said.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.