New Mexico Governor Tours Refugee Center, Talks Business

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham visited southern New Mexico on Friday to talk with fellow elected Democratic leaders and business groups about economic development and to tour a military base near the U.S.-Mexico border where Afghan refugees are being housed.

The Democrat’s visit was not made public until late in the afternoon. Her office said she walked through the processing area at Fort Bliss Army base, spoke with volunteers about the need for winter coats and other items for those at the facility and saw how the refugees were screened for COVID-19.

“Whenever the federal government tells us they need our help, New Mexico is ready to help these families on their way,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after the tour.

There was no indication that Lujan Grisham visited the U.S.-Mexico border while in the area. She has faced criticism in recent months for not doing more to address the concerns of residents along the border amid the latest influx of immigrants.

Republicans in New Mexico were disappointed earlier this week that she wasn't among the more than two dozen governors who signed a letter to President Joe Biden seeking a meeting about the problems that border states are facing.

Lujan Grisham, chair of the Democratic Governors Association and a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, has said that those with concerns should direct them to the federal agencies working on the issue.

Republican state Sen. Crystal Diamond said she and others had been asking for months that the governor visit with ranchers and others in the region. She said those pleas were ignored.

“She's not out there hearing the needs of constituents,” Diamond said. “So right now we don't need candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham on the border, we need Gov. Grisham on the border who will act in her capacity as governor to provide us help.”

Diamond noted that lawmakers held their legislative session earlier this year in a closed capitol with a fence around the building while the border remained open and immigrants arrived in the U.S. amid the pandemic. She said the health and safety of New Mexicans should be front and center.

“Border security isn't a partisan issue, but she has continued to make it so,” Diamond said of the governor.

The governor's visit to southern New Mexico was billed by her office as a strategy session with business leaders and elected officials to talk about their concerns and how her administration can meet community needs. Meetings were held in the border community of Santa Teresa and nearby Las Cruces.

Lujan Grisham's administration has built on the work of former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration to grow cross-border trade and attract more businesses to the area. According to the state, several Taiwanese businesses have announced plans in the last two years to develop manufacturing space in Santa Teresa and create a North American footprint.

The state since 2019 has directed more than $10 million in local economic development funds to Doña Ana County businesses, resulting in over 1,000 jobs. About $11 million in state job training funds have supported more than 2,500 jobs.