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Amid colliding crises in Denver, Mayor Johnston pledges push to give migrants access to work

Denver7 spoke with a nonprofit in Denver that is "filled with hope" by the mayor's words in an update addressing support for migrants and the unhoused population.
Local nonprofit supports migrants who have disabilities connect with resources
Posted at 9:57 PM, Sep 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-29 00:46:04-04

DENVER — On Thursday, Mayor Mike Johnston updated the community on two crises facing the city: housing people living on the street, and supporting migrants arriving in Denver.

The update came after the city moved an encampment into transitional housing, providing shelter for 83 people. It also came at a time when Denver is seeing an average of more than 200 migrants coming into the city every day.

The city's migrant dashboard shows it is housing more than 2,000 migrants between city and non-city facilities. Denver has served more than 20,000 migrants this year, according to the dashboard.

Following a recent announcement from the federal government that gives Venezuelans who arrived before July 31 Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows them to apply for work permits, the Johnston administration plans to pivot their support services to helping individuals gain access to work.

“We have people here who want to work," Johnston said in an afternoon address Thursday. "I also get calls from employers around the city who want to hire the people that have arrived. And we have a federal government that is in the way of employees who want to work and employers who want to hire them."

The mayor says the city is reimbursed by the federal government for migrant congregate shelter sites.

“We still continue to see particularly what I would call these involuntary arrivals, which are folks that have been put on a bus by Governor Abbott and sent to us. Many of those folks had no plan to come to Denver. They arrived here and are trying to get to family in Chicago, they have friends or family in Boston or in Salt Lake City, you name it," Johnston said. "For those folks that do want to stay we're going to try to get them connected to work options."

Johnston added that in his proposed 2024 budget, $20 million has been allocated to support migrants.

Elisa Aucancela, the executive director of El Grupo Vida, believes more money should be slated for migrants next year. El Grupo Vida is a nonprofit that assists migrants in the Denver area who have disabilities, or loved ones with disabilities.

"I'm filled with hope of what I heard [the mayor say]," said Aucancela. "I want to see it. I want to see all of this in action.”

Aucancela introduced Denver7 to Karen Gonzalez, a Colombian migrant who arrived in Denver on August 3. Gonzalez came to the United States to provide a better life for her 2-year-old daughter, Samantha. Samantha has West Syndrome, a kidney issue, development delay, and a curved femur. She had open heart surgery when she was only one year old.

Gonzalez had to leave her two other children with her mother, and says she misses them tremendously. The journey was difficult, to say the least, but she hopes what she has experienced will pay off for her daughter in the end. El Grupo Vida has helped connect the family with Denver Health, and Samantha will soon receive therapy. Plus, the nonprofit was able to get the family into an apartment and out of a city shelter at the beginning of September.

Gonzalez said at the border, they were kidnapped by the cartel, which demanded money. Her goal was to end up in Dallas, but when they arrived they ended up being forced to live on the streets. The family came to Colorado, and has felt welcomed since being here.

However, Gonzalez cannot apply for a work permit yet. She plans on applying for asylum, and her court date is not until 2027.

Aucancela hopes something changes before then, that would allow people in Gonzalez's situation to seek work authorization sooner.

“If they don't have the resources, they're going to be out on the street," said Aucancela. “Somebody's going to call 911. And he's going to tell, 'Hey, this family with a one- or 2-year-old child are outside,' and they're going to get sent to a shelter that maybe is not for immigrants, maybe is for recovery, or maybe is for people who are going through a lot of difficulties in the homeless process.”

El Grupo Vida is supported through donations, and appreciates anything they receive to help with the work they do.

There are other ways to donate to migrants arriving in Denver through the city.

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