LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The border crisis expanded 36 miles north on Friday when the Border Patrol for the first time dropped off migrants at a homeless shelter in Las Cruces.
Local emergency officials said that the Border Patrol is likely to drop off more migrants in coming days and weeks.
While churches in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County have been providing temporary shelter for migrants released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention for months, until now those migrants were distributed in an orderly fashion by ICE to a network of shelters in El Paso and New Mexico.
But on Friday morning, seven Border Patrol vans dropped off about 70 mostly Central American migrants at the Gospel Rescue Mission on Amador Avenue. More were expected to arrive throughout the day. As many as 150 were expected.
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The Border Patrol issued a news release on Thursday saying that it would release "processed illegal aliens" in El Paso and southern New Mexico because of "capacity issues" at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.
The first five Border Patrol vans arrived at the Gospel Rescue Mission at 9:54 a.m. Friday. They were driven to the rear of the property, where the migrants were unloaded one van at a time. A table was set up to provide them drinks from a cooler and bagged meals. Two more vans arrived at 10:36 a.m.
Migrants then sat on folding chairs on a lawn in front of a mobile home. At that point, Border Patrol officials and a representative of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office required media to leave the area and stand in front of the facility, where the migrants were no longer visible.
Cullen Combs, emergency manager for Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, said the Border Patrol drop-offs on Friday are likely to be the first of many.
"They're talking about sustained operations," he said.
Steve Davis, shelter director for the Gospel Rescue Mission, said that the migrants will be housed apart from shelter's regular population in the facility's cafeteria. About 100 non-migrants stayed at the shelter on Thursday night.
He said that the Border Patrol had dropped off 58 folding cots and blankets for the migrants on Wednesday. Gospel Rescue Mission brought in six portable toilets to help with the added population.
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If the shelter can't house all the migrants who arrive, the overflow will be distributed to church-based shelters in the city. Migrants are expected to stay for one to two days, until their travel to stay with sponsors elsewhere in the country can be arranged.
Representatives from Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces and other migrant shelters in the area came to the Gospel Rescue Mission on Friday to help arrange travel for the migrants.
The shelter prepared 150 meals for the migrants before they arrived. It also distributed clothing. It was considering bringing in large tents to provide the migrants shade in the grass area behind the facility.
'Our responsibility is to take care of folks'
Gospel Rescue Mission is paying for the cost to care for the migrants from its own budget.
"We just feel it's our responsibility to take care of folks," Davis said. "That's what we believe God called us to do. If we find folks in need, regardless of who they are and where they're from, we're going to do our best to take care of them."
Las Cruces City Manager Stuart Ed said that Police Chief Patrick Gallagher received a call at about 2 p.m. Thursday from Customs and Border Protection officials warning him of the release in Las Cruces. Twice before, the city had been warned about possible releases, but they did not occur.
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But in response to that possibility, the city formulated a "immigrant response action plan," so it was prepared for Friday's release. It held multiple meetings with city, county, and state officials, along with representative of local nonprofits and migrant shelters.
The city arranged to have migrants housed temporarily at six local nonprofit facilities, such as the Gospel Rescue Mission and Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, and in city buildings, such as the Munson Senior Center and the Benavidez Community Center.
"I think as a community we're more prepared than most," Ed said.
The Las Cruces City Council on Monday will consider a proposal to allocate $75,000 to help with the local migrant response.
Initially, that money was proposed to help church-based groups that have provided temporary shelter to migrants, but Ed said that money could also be used to help if the Border Patrol drops off additional migrants outside the normal shelter network, if the resolution is approved.
The city reported donations are being sought for migrant families being housed at the Gospel Rescue Mission.
Particularly needed, the city stated in a news release, are personal hygiene products including sanitary napkins; shampoo; conditioner; lotion; Chapstick or similar types of lip balm; clothing; towels; blankets; and canned food and bottled water. Also sought is foam padding, to be used as bedding, and stuffed toys for children.
Donations can be dropped off at the mission, 1050 W. Amador Ave, until 9 p.m. daily.
Follow Blake Gumprecht on Twitter: @blakegumprecht
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: New Mexico city asks for donations as Border Patrol drops off migrants for the first time