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Denver mayor, Colorado’s Democratic congressional delegation urge feds to act on migrant crisis

Johnston traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to urge lawmakers to act on faster work authorization visas, coordinated plan of entry for migrants
Posted: 2:45 PM, Jan 18, 2024
Updated: 2024-01-26 11:49:30-05
Migrant Families Denver

DENVER — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and Colorado’s Democratic congressional delegation on Thursday urged Congress to reach a compromise and act fast on the ongoing influx of migrants coming from the southern border.

The Thursday news conference outside the U.S. Capitol building came a day after city officials in Denver announced they were once again reinstating limits on the number of days migrant families can stay in shelters as city resources are stretched thin.

As of Thursday afternoon, 4,407 migrants were staying in city shelters, according to the city’s migrant dashboard, with a total of 37,571 migrants supported by the city since December 2022 at a cost more than $38 million. Many of them are from Central and South America escaping violence and economic instability in their home countries.

Though the latest figures show arrivals are down 14% from their highest peak from just a week ago, when the city reported sheltering just a little over 5,000 migrants, the number of migrants arriving each week over the past couple of months is significant enough that Johnston has asked city departments to identify where they can make cuts so Denver can keep funding its migrant response.

“Without some intervention or support (from Congress), the City of Denver is looking at a $180 million budget in 2024 to meet the needs of folks that are arriving in our cities,” the mayor said Thursday. “Without some support, that $180 million would look like a 10% cut of our entire budget across the city. That's not sustainable for our city, it's not sustainable for our newcomers, it's not sustainable for our taxpayers.”

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The chart above shows the number of migrants staying at city-sponsored shelters since the beginning of 2023.

Alongside fellow Democrat Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Reps. Jason Crow and Brittany Pettersen, Johnston spoke of the urgency of expediting work authorization visas and creating a coordinated point of entry for migrants coming in droves to cities like Denver, Chicago, Boston and New York City from south of the border.

To paint a picture of how dire the situation is for migrants coming to the U.S., Johnston recounted the story of a Venezuelan refugee who fled the country after her government tried to kill her and her family for refusing to use tear gas on a room full of children and elderly people back home.

Johnston said the woman and her family made the 3,000-mile trek to the U.S. and eventually made it to Denver. The family, he said, is now “looking for work in a place where they have a six year wait for a court date to be able to get an asylum claim heard.”

He said migrants and refugees arriving to cities like Denver by the thousands “don't have the federal support they need to be able to have resources to help them integrate successfully into their new lives,” and that all that is required “is a clear act of courage from Congress to take action on the things that cities need to be successful.”

For Denver, Johnston said, that means a faster turnaround on work authorization visas for migrants who just want the opportunity to work to support themselves and their families, as well as federal resources and a coordinated plan of entry so the city has the capacity to welcome, support and integrate arriving families, “rather than (having) one that is haphazardly run by the governor of one state deciding where folks should arrive.”

Immigrants and refugees in the U.S. ‘a source of great strength'

While Denver is a “vibrant, thriving city full of generous folks who want to see everyone succeed,” it is also a city that is “facing a humanitarian crisis and a fiscal crisis, unlike anything we've seen in the last 25 years,” Johnston said, as he made a plea for lawmakers to come together in Washington to fix a system that is not helping migrants succeed.

Sen. Bennet made a similar plea alongside the rest of the Colorado Democratic delegation, saying that what Denver is seeking is not “to make this somebody else’s problem or somebody else’s issue."

“The citizens of Denver are stepping up to our responsibility as citizens of this great country, but they are not in charge of the immigration policy in the United States,” Bennet told reporters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol. “Immigration is the responsibility of the federal government and this is one of those cases where we can't just fail, blame each other – as we often do – walk away, and say it's someone else's responsibility. This is our responsibility.”

Bennet argued that having expedited work authorization visas as part of a funding package in Congress would not only be beneficial for the migrants themselves but for the benefit of the United States and the benefit of the nation's economy.

“I think it's up to us to make sure we come together to do the immigration part of this. Nobody in Colorado wants transnational gangs running the immigration system for the United States. We should be running our immigration system,” Bennet said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Crow, who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, spoke about the importance of migrants, calling them the “lifeblood of our economy in so many ways.”

As a representative of one of the most diverse districts in the nation, Crow said that migrants and refugees “are a source of great strength and pride” in Colorado.

“Our diversity is our strength in our community,” Crow said. “These are business owners, they're our neighbors. They are the lifeblood of our economy in so many ways, and they are the people that we love that we work with, that we spend time with. That is Colorado, that is our pride, that is our heart. And that is what we know.”

Like his colleagues, Crow called on Congress to act and fix what he called a broken immigration system that is in desperate need of reform.

“In Colorado, we do not allow people to go hungry and starve and freeze on our streets who need our help,” Crow said.

Cities aren't the only ones in need. Nonprofits are also asking federal officials to provide more resources.

The Village Exchange Center in Aurora, which provides a variety of services to migrants, is calling for more funding to be allocated to the Shelter and Services Program (SSP), a FEMA program that provides help to non-federal entities that provide shelter and other services to migrants while they await their immigration proceedings.

“We're seeing about 600 families come in each week,” said Mireya Davila, the senior program manager at Village Exchange Center. “There's definitely a big need for funding for housing and food.”

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, Colorado delegation urge Congress to act on migrant crisis

Here's how you can help refugees and immigrants coming to Denver

If you’d like to help as the city responds to this migrant crisis, you can do so with donations — either material or monetary. If opting for the former, the city is asking for the following items:

  • Men’s clothing (especially pants)
  • Children’s clothing
  • Shoes (all sizes)
  • Winter gear (coats, gloves, sweaters)
  • Socks
  • Underwear (new only)

Those items can be dropped off at the Richard T. Castro Human Services Center at 1200 Federal Boulevard. Donations are accepted only at the garage doors on the north side of the building from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. Appointments are encouraged. To schedule your drop off, call 303-514-0643.

City officials also said anyone wishing to help should consider giving to the Newcomers Fund. Donations will go directly to the city’s nonprofit partners who are supporting migrants with resource navigation, work authorization, shelter and other services. You can also help by volunteering to support the response.

Editor's note on Jan. 26 at 9:45 a.m.: This story has been updated with a new clothing donation site.

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