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Denver advocacy group, immigrants protest city's new immigration strategy

A Denver Advocacy group and several immigrants organized a protest of the city's new immigration strategy.
Posted at 5:14 PM, Apr 14, 2024

DENVER — The City of Denver's new immigration strategy is facing criticism. Housekeys Action Network Denver and several immigrants hosted a protest of the new plan on S. Zuni Street Sunday afternoon.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced his new immigration response plan last Wednesday. It establishes the Denver Asylum Seekers Program, which will provide housing, workforce training and food assistance to 1,000 immigrants for six months.

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

However, the city is reducing the amount of time immigrants can stay in shelters. Previously, immigrants who arrived in Denver could stay in shelters between 14-42 days, but the new policy will only allow them to stay between 24-72 hours.

"I think that it’s insufficient," said Willy Bastidas, an immigrant who helped organize Sunday's protest.

Bastidas argued that more families will be forced to live on the street since the new program is only available to 1,000 people.

Denver advocacy group, immigrants protest city's new immigration strategy

"The mayor doesn't represent us, he needs to listen to us and work with us to a better solution," said Bastidas.

Housekeys Action Network Denver(HAND) assisted with the rally. HAND spokesperson V Reeves fears that the changed immigration strategy will overload non-profits and advocacy groups trying to assist newly arrived immigrants.

“Every new migrant that comes is going to be left to fend for themselves after 24 to 72 hours," said Reeves. "It's a slap in the face and an offensive period of time.”

In response to the criticism, Jon Ewing with Denver Human Resources issued the following statement:

Denver has never turned anyone away and never will. We will still provide temporary shelter so that new arrivals to our city have a place to stay and we will still help them get to family, friends or other networks of support. We will still provide meals and we will still address immediate medical concerns. But we must transition to a long-term model that serves those currently in our care in a much more substantial way than what has previously been offered. We believe the Denver Asylum Seekers Program does just that.

Since December 2022, Denver has devoted countless hours and nearly $70 million to helping more than 40,000 newcomers – more per capita than any other interior city in the United States. With shelter numbers nearing 5,000 earlier this year, we projected that spending could hit $180 million for the year, or 10 percent of the city’s overall budget. We are proud of the work we have accomplished, but the time has come to pivot from emergency response to a sustainable program.

Prior to 2024, the city offered temporary, emergency shelter to people staying within our program. This included regular meals, medical care and the option to travel to other cities. Early on, when arrivals were comparatively low and outside resources and employment were still relatively within reach, this program worked. But with little immediate access to federal work authorization and other income opportunities increasingly hard to come by, today’s newcomer population needs more than the old model can provide.

We spent the first three months of this year working through more than 1,600 work authorization applications for people who were paroled into the U.S. through the CBP One app. And through our nonprofit partners, we’ve connected thousands of people with case management and direct housing assistance to include first month’s rent, deposit and security fees. We have also worked extraordinarily hard to prevent newcomers from falling into homelessness and will continue to do so with the launch of this initiative. Nothing has changed, nor will it ever, in our commitment to helping the unhoused.

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.

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