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City's help sought as African immigrants overwhelm Aurora nonprofit

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Posted at 6:43 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 22:33:10-04

AURORA, Colo. — Asylum-seekers from Africa are continuing to make their way to Aurora, and the African Leadership Group, a local nonprofit, says it is doing what it can to help them, but wants the city to pitch in.

Through a translator, Jamilatou Sy, 43, explained that she was pregnant with her now-4-month-old daughter when she made the journey from Senegal, along the western coast of Africa, to the U.S. at the end of 2023. She is originally from the country of Mauritania, just north of Senegal, but fled to Senegal with her family in 1989 due to ongoing war.

Sy and her daughter, who was born on Dec. 3, made it to Colorado in March with the hope of seeking asylum.

“Because I had (an) issue with my husband and the main issue was my husband's brother-in-law was abusing, sexually, my two daughters,” Sy said.

She said she was drawn to Aurora because of the already robust African community in the area. Papa Dia, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit African Leadership Group, said there has been an influx of African asylum seekers coming to Colorado, including more pregnant women and children.

“Now, you hear one woman did it, and you hear, OK, it's possible,” Dia said.

Because so many are coming to Colorado, Dia recently organized a clinic to help them apply for asylum and their work permit at no cost with the help of local immigration lawyers like Daniel Okwena.

Nonprofit seeks city's help as African immigrants continue to come to Aurora

"Most folks will not get their cases approved simply because they don't have legal representation,” Okwena said.

Dia said the long waiting period presents significant challenges for immigrants seeking asylum. Because they don't have a job, finding a place to live and access other resources is difficult.

The African Leadership Group is also working toward building better communication with the City of Aurora.

“We haven't received any help from the city,” Dia said.

The City of Aurora said that is easier said than done, only doing so much with the resources they have.

Aurora's Manager of International and Immigrant Affairs Ricardo Gambetta said resources are far more limited when you don't operate as a city and county, like Denver. He said the city can't provide funding for nonprofits, but they are doing what they can.

"We're expanding our English classes. We're expanding different sports programs. We're expanding our leadership program, more trainings across the city,” Gambetta said.

Gambetta said everyone has access to the city's services.

“We are happy to reach out to Papa Dia and try to find out ways we can work together,” said Gambetta.

Sy said she is hopeful that she, her newborn daughter and others will get the opportunity to become legal citizens.

“Our hope for me and for everybody else here is to be integrated into this great nation,” she said.

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