ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico’s Democratic governor is asking that the Biden administration delay planned or expanded efforts to transport migrants to her state if pandemic-related restrictions on asylum seekers are lifted.
The federal government has predicted a threefold increase in border crossings if that happens, and first-term Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday an influx of migrants would dramatically affect the border state’s capacity to provide ongoing humanitarian assistance to thousands of New Mexico residents displaced by historic wildfires this spring.
She outlined her concerns in a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejando Mayorkas.
The governor is among Democrats who would be forced to play defense in an already difficult midterm election year if there were an increase in illegal border crossings.
Lujan Grisham told Mayorkas that border issues and flaws in the immigration system need to be addressed and that public safety and health are paramount. She went on to say that she doesn't believe the department can adequately address the concerns if existing limitations on migrant entry are lifted.
“New Mexico (and other border states) will bear the brunt of adverse economic and social impacts that are likely to arise from the influx of migrants without additional planning on the part of the federal government," Lujan Grisham wrote. “I cannot allow this."
The governor recently visited Washington to talk with top officials about wildfire recovery as the largest blaze burning in the U.S. chars more tinder dry forest in northern New Mexico.
The massive fire was the result of planned burns by the federal government to clear out vegetation and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. With the flames escaping containment, thousands of residents were forced to flee and rural communities now face threats of post-fire flooding and other problems.
Lujan Grisham said New Mexico's resources already have been taxed by the wildfire emergencies and it cannot “shoulder additional burdens falling squarely within the federal government’s purview.”
A federal judge last month blocked the Biden administration’s plan to lift the migrant restrictions, ordering that they stay in place while a lawsuit led by Arizona and Louisiana — and now joined by 22 other states — plays out in court.
Migrants have been expelled more than 1.9 million times since March 2020 under Title 42, a public health provision that denies them a chance to request asylum under U.S. law and international treaty on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Aside from ruling that the Biden administration failed to follow administrative procedures requiring public notice and time to gather public comment, the judge cited predictions that ending the restrictions would likely increase border crossings to as many as 18,000 daily. That, the judge noted, would result in more migrants being processed in congregate settings where contagious disease can be spread.
The New Mexico governor’s office did not say how many migrants the state could expect if restrictions were lifted.
Lujan Grisham had been a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, and Republicans in New Mexico repeatedly have criticized her for what they consider a lax stance when it comes to border security.
The issue is expected to be part of the debate ahead of the November election, when Lujan Grisham will face GOP challenger Mark Ronchetti.