The migrant shelters are now empty, but one southern New Mexico community is still dealing with the aftermath of this year’s surge of Central Americans, whom the city helped care for.
The city of Deming and Luna County issued emergency declarations after asylum seekers overwhelmed the local Border Patrol station in May.
The Border Patrol closed a highway checkpoint – stoking local residents’ fears of drug and immigrant smuggling – and the federal government began transferring migrants caught near El Paso, Texas, to Deming.
“A lot of our citizens had a sense of panic,” said Laura Holguin, the city’s finance director. “The huge number of migrants were coming and we didn’t believe we would be able to handle if they had just been released into our community. As a city, we felt it was best to take in the migrants and get them to their next destination, wherever that might be.”
Local residents ended up participating in the intake and processing of the migrants, who were fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. It was a major effort.
According to Holguin, Deming spent about $300,000 in food, health care, food and security for around 7,000 migrants who stayed at the Southwest New Mexico State Fairgrounds, an airport hangar and a vacant armory.
The city has yet to be reimbursed by the federal government, she says.
Holguin described an environment of concern from residents who “didn’t understand about the migrants coming here or how they would get to their destination.”
Slowly, many people in the town became part of the migrant-relief effort.
“We pulled a lot of overtime for police, fire and EMS,” Holguin said.
Today, the migrant surge has reduced to a trickle, in large part because Mexico has been stopping Central Americans at the border with Guatemala. Now residents’ concern is no longer security but getting federal reimbursement for all the resources spent.
The efforts from the people in Deming didn’t go unnoticed at the state level. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an emergency grant and last Monday gave the city of Deming a humanitarian award for its help with asylum seekers.
The state has sued the federal government to recoup spending by local governments to shelter and feed migrants.
Meanwhile, this quiet town along Interstate 10, 35 miles north of the border, is trying to return to its tranquil normalcy.