Editorial: What does fighting wildfires have to do with immigrants?

We’re puzzled Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is using the wildfires raging across New Mexico as the reason for telling the federal government our state lacks the resources to accept immigrants crowded at the southern border.

What state resources, exactly?

Traditionally, multiple non-government organizations have provided direct assistance to undocumented immigrants in New Mexico.

Numerous churches and charities stepped up when buses of asylum-seekers were sent here in 2019, providing them food and shelter.

In addition, Catholic Charities provides rental housing and other resources for immigrants and refugees “in order to preserve or restore family unity.” The Center for Immigration and Citizenship Legal Assistance offers immigration representation in family-based immigration matters, consular processing, Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals renewals, permanent residence and naturalization. El Centro de Igualdal y Derechos “works with Latino immigrant communities and allies to defend, strengthen, and advance the rights of our community.”

There’s also the New Mexico Dream Team, New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Albuquerque Interfaith, Santa Fe Dreamers and Somos un Pueblo Unido, to name just a few.

Yet, the governor last week urged federal officials to delay a reported plan to transport migrants to Albuquerque, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and other cities due to overcrowding at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico and other states would “bear the brunt” of adverse economic and social impacts if Homeland Security follows through on the relocation plan.

That’s a 180-degree change from 2019 when, as she removed most of the 118 National Guard troops serving on the border in support roles to Border Patrol agents, she said: “I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country.” Last year, she proclaimed New Mexico stood ready to accommodate refugees seeking asylum after fleeing Afghanistan. Where has that compassion gone?

A cynic might conclude the Democratic governor is suddenly shunning immigrants because it’s an election year and she’s in a tight race with a well-known Republican with a strong stance on border security. Her opponent, Republican Mark Ronchetti, describes the governor’s rebuff as an “election year stunt.”

We repeat that our nation’s immigration system has been broken for decades and needs comprehensive reform, including a fair guest worker program — something our governor and congressional delegation could champion.

Yes, raging wildfires have charred more than 900 square miles of New Mexico lands and taxed state agencies. But the governor fails to explain what state resources would be needed to assist asylum-seekers and how they would take away from the funds being used to assist in fighting the fires and helping evacuees.

As for any financial misgivings, the $45 million of state emergency spending for firefighting efforts, supplies and more will apparently be fully reimbursed by the federal government. Didn’t President Biden just visit and say he intends to make the state whole — that is, to pay 100% of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire relief costs?

Quite simply, the governor needs to better explain her position or run the risk of fueling the perception her letter regarding migrant transfers is, in fact, “an election year stunt.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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