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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A U.S. judge has granting a motion to dismiss claims by New Mexico that immigration officials shirked their duties by quickly releasing thousands of mostly Central American migrants into communities after they crossed into the United States.
New Mexico had claimed in a lawsuit filed nearly a year ago that the practice left communities to pick up the tab for housing and feeding the asylum-seekers until they moved on to find relatives or other hosts elsewhere in the U.S.
U.S. District Judge James Browning on Tuesday found that the Department of Homeland Security had complied with the law and acted within its powers and discretion and that sovereign immunity protected the federal government from liability.
Browning also determined that the federal government’s policies satisfied due process and other constitutional standards.
It wasn't immediately clear if the state planned to appeal.
In addition to seeking an end to the catch-and-release practice, New Mexico had sought reimbursement for humanitarian efforts to temporarily shelter migrants. Las Cruces, Deming and other communities used their own resources to house and feed the immigrants, and the state resorted to issuing its own grants to help communities with the costs.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies, cited a “derogation of duty” when she announced the lawsuit last June against then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and top immigration officials. The city of Albuquerque was a co-plaintiff.
The complaint resembled a suit filed previously by San Diego County in California that challenged the cancellation of a federal program that helped migrants with phone calls and other travel logistics as they sought final destinations across the U.S.
The quick releases in New Mexico came as the border was inundated with migrants seeking asylum. At times, groups of 300 or more people showed up at remote outposts, including the crossings at Antelope Wells and Sunland Park, closer to El Paso, Texas.
Attorneys for the state and the city told the judge during a hearing last year that hundreds of people were dropped off in Deming in the middle of summer and it wasn't an option to ignore them given the state's responsibility for ensuring public health and safety for all people within its jurisdiction.
Deputy City Attorney Winter Torres argued that local officials had only 10 to 12 hours of notification before some 300 migrants were released on Easter weekend in 2019. She had suggested that the federal government was targeting Albuquerque because of its immigrant-friendly policies.
Federal officials denied those claims.
Attorneys for the government argued in court that New Mexico and the city had no standing to bring the lawsuit because the previous safe release policy was not something that was ever formally adopted through regulations or statute and thus left to the discretion of immigration officials.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation did secure $30 million in grants for communities and organizations that aided asylum seekers.