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Advocacy groups criticize Denver's new immigration strategy

Groups call the plan "short-sighted" and believe it will undermine success
Migrants processed in Denver
Posted at 6:41 PM, Apr 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-11 20:41:04-04

DENVER — The City of Denver's plan to change how it helps new immigrants is receiving criticism from advocacy groups, who believe it will undermine success and destabilize communities.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s new immigration response plan, which he outlined Wednesday, focuses on providing more help to a smaller number of people.

The Denver Asylum Seekers Program will provide housing to 1,000 immigrants for six months as they await to receive work authorization. The program will also help them access job training and food assistance.

“I think this really represents a new moment for Denver,” Johnston said.

Mayor Mike Johnston April 10, 2024.jpg


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The city, which has provided support to over 40,000 immigrants since December 2022, is limiting how long new immigrants can stay in the city’s shelters.

Previously, immigrants who arrived in Denver could stay in shelters for 14 to 42 days, depending on if they had children. Now, immigrants will only be allowed to stay for 24 to 72 hours.

“What this does is both make sure we serve the folks we have. We’ll help them get connected to work. And we think it’s a model for other cities to replicate on how to serve even those folks with the most difficult path to get them into work authorization,” Johnston said.

In a social media post, AFSC & Coloradans For Immigrant Rights called the mayor’s plan “short-sighted” and “uninformed.”

“The new policy will undermine the effort and successes of newcomers, nonprofits and mutual aid networks and create more housing scarcity in the newcomer community. Arriving families wishing to resettle here will be presented with the option to be on the streets or to join other loved ones if they have them – putting everyone at risk of eviction,” the groups said in a statement. “The unwelcoming policy will push people who have a support network here to arrive in another city where they do not. It will separate people from loved ones and likely destabilize communities in other receiving cities. The short-sighted and uninformed decision by the Johnston Administration deeply troubles advocates.”

Former Denver mayoral candidate Lisa Calderón has also been critical of the mayor’s handling of the immigration crisis.

“The mayor has a habit of calling a lot of his initiatives successful without the outcomes being measured. And I don't think the rest of the country is looking at Denver as a success,” Calderón said.

Calderón is also with the Latinos United Neighbors Association (LUNA), a collective of Latino community leaders in Denver.

The group has been tracking Johnston’s performance in office and providing scorecards grading his performance on a variety of issues, including immigration.

“I've let the mayor know directly that we are very concerned about migrant children being on the street this summer. And his response is it's not happening. But we have on the ground advocates who are saying otherwise,” said Calderón. “I think he really needs to hear from on the ground, grassroots people who are doing this work without any funding, who are serving meals, who are the frontline of defense when people are kicked out of shelters. Instead, he's taking a very high level of viewpoint and doesn't really understand what is happening on the ground.”

In response to the criticism, Johnston's press secretary, Jordan Fuja, said the program is "a critical and innovative step to ensure those who have already arrived in our city receive the services they need."

Full statement:

“In the absence of federal funding, the new Denver Asylum Seekers Program is a critical and innovative step to ensure those who have already arrived in our city receive the services they need, including in-depth workforce training, to be successful as they apply for asylum and work towards legal work authorization. For folks who arrive after April 10, we will continue to offer short-term congregate shelter that includes thorough on-site case management. Our navigators will work directly with newcomers to help develop a safe and sustainable long-term plan, including by identifying other cities where they may have existing networks or better opportunities to work and housing.

Our city has received more than 40,000 newcomers, or 5.6% of our population, which is the most per capita of any city in the country. We’re proud of the support we’ve been able to offer so far, but without federal dollars, Denver does not have the resources or capacity to maintain this outsized share of the load. Given the number of people who have arrived in Denver, there are very few opportunities for work and housing, and those opportunities only continue to shrink.”

Johnston said the city will need to spend about $90 million in taxpayer money on immigrants this year. The mayor is proposing $45 million in cuts to city agencies and departments to help the city meet that obligation.

The $90 million figure is lower than what the mayor projected would be needed this year.

Several Denver citizens have criticized the city for spending taxpayer money on immigrants. The mayor has defended the spending numerous times, including on Wednesday.

“In Denver, we believe the way to solve these problems is not by turning our back on our American values, but by turning to our American values,” said Johnston.

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