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Reunited immigrant families passing through New Mexico

July 24, 2018

This week, fresh from reunions months in the making, immigrant families separated by the Trump administration’s zero tolerance border policy will head for New Mexico.

Denver-based nonprofit Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains is set to take in as many as 300 newly reunited family members in its Albuquerque office, providing food, off-site overnight shelter and free transportation to their final U.S. destination.

From there, immigrants will await the next steps in what are likely to be lengthy legal battles to stay in the United States.

Families began arriving in Albuquerque on Monday and are expected to stream in through Friday.

The effort comes as the Trump administration scrambles to meet a Thursday deadline set by a federal judge in San Diego to reunify 2,551 children ages 5 and up with their families.

As of Friday, 450 of those children had been reunified, according to the Associated Press. Dozens of children under 5 already have been reunited with their families.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that long has worked with the federal government to provide foster care to unaccompanied minor immigrants, enlisted Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, a partner organization, to spearhead the Albuquerque effort.

Identical support and relocation efforts also are underway in Arizona and Texas, with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leading the charge.

In Phoenix, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services called on Lutheran Family Services Southwest to take in about 20 families each day. Danielle Bernard, director of marketing and communications for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, said it’s been a “tough and chaotic” experience there.

“The families really just need support,” she said. “They’ve been through a lot. The teams on the ground that we’ve worked with so far, they’ve just been phenomenal in providing comfort and resources to these families.”

The call to provide support and relocation services in Albuquerque came through on Friday, and by Saturday, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains sprang into action in a “24-7, all-hands-on-deck operation,” Bernard said.

“We’ve got employees really burning the midnight oil out there just trying to make things go smoothly,” she said. “It’s been both inspiring and exhausting. It’s been especially inspiring to see the reunification happening and to know we’ve been on the ground helping.”

Immigrants, most of whom will have been reunited within 24 hours of arriving in Albuquerque, will stay the night in a hotel or Airbnb. Bernard said most immigrants are unlikely to remain in New Mexico. Federal officials sent them through Albuquerque based on where parents were detained.

During their stay, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains will provide the immigrants with food, clothing, toiletries and gift cards. The organization is accepting monetary donations to assist in that effort.

The federal government, which requested the assistance of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in the reunification process, is not subsidizing the group’s effort. Instead, Bernard said, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and its partners have received all of their financial support from other nonprofits, foundations and “outraged” onlookers.

Both Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have dozens of years of experience assisting unaccompanied minor immigrants, and Bernard said government officials tapped them for their deep expertise.

Still, Bernard said, she has never seen anything like this.

“Honestly, we’re mostly just hoping this never happens again, and that we don’t have to go through that effort for a situation that never should have happened in the first place,” she said. “This is just such a strange and new situation.”

To contribute

Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains is accepting donations for recently reunited immigrant families affected by the Trump administration’s zero tolerance border policy. Donations will be used to provide families with food, clothing, toiletries and gift cards. Visit www.lfsrm.org/donate-family-reunification

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