Cots are arranged in an emergency shelter for people arriving from the southern U.S. border at a Denver recreation center, Dec. 13, 2022. (Kevin Beaty/Denverite, pool)
The imminent expiration of a COVID-era immigration policy has left state and local leadership concerned about their ability to support the growing number of migrants coming to Colorado from the southern border of the United States.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock co-wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing their concern that non-border jurisdictions are not receiving the federal support they need to help the large number of migrants coming in. They asked the Department of Homeland Security to increase direct support for areas struggling to meet needs with the resources they already have.
When the national COVID-19 public health emergency ends on May 11, so does Title 42, a policy allowing border authorities to quickly expel migrants from the U.S. based on public health risks posed by the pandemic. Additional surges of migrant arrivals are expected in Colorado once the policy ends.
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A news release from Denver said the city has seen more than 200 people arrive each day since Thursday, and while fewer than 400 people occupied migrant shelters the week prior, over 800 people occupied the shelters as of Monday. The city said all four of its migrant shelters are quickly reaching capacity and asked for additional support from other sheltering partners, including faith-based organizations.
The letter from Polis and Hancock notes that despite immigration policy being a responsibility of the federal government, the burden has fallen onto state and local governments as well as non-governmental agencies to handle the influx.
“As a result, we experienced a significant and unreimbursed drain of local financial resources that unfairly and disproportionately impacts our residents,” Polis and Hancock wrote in the letter. “To date the State of Colorado has spent 8.35 million dollars and Denver has spent more than 14 million dollars since December 2022, to shelter, feed and otherwise support more than 7,000 migrants.”
Vulnerable migrant populations left at the highest risk
Andrea Loya is the executive director of Casa de Paz, an organization in Aurora typically dedicated to helping people being released from a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. She said as people have continued to line up outside Denver’s migrant intake center for days now without food or water, her team started bringing essentials to those waiting.
“It’s just the humane thing to do is to try to help,” Loya said. “Things like water or snacks … those are just basic necessities that I feel like at the very least we should be able to provide before people end up in the hospital for dehydration. I’ve heard there’s pregnant women out there right now, so it’s really hard to sit around and just hope that somebody else is going to fix the problem.”
To be frank, the border is now right on our doorsteps and distinctions based on geographic proximity are not as salient.
– Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in a letter to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
The Denver news release said the majority of those arriving are documented through official immigration channels. As of Monday, the city said it is following “updated federal guidance to provide emergency shelter only to newly arriving migrants who have been encountered by U.S. immigration officials” because of new federal funding limitations.
Raquel Lane-Arellano, policy director at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said this policy change from the city leaves the most vulnerable migrant populations at the highest risk. She said denying new arrivals resources based on their immigration status shifts the cost to other city resources, such as its homeless shelters.
“We don’t think that the city should condition services, temporary shelter, on immigration status. It’s unacceptable, dangerous and discriminatory, and if there are budgetary concerns or constraints, we think that they should be shared by the entire city, not by denying lifesaving services to a particularly vulnerable population,” Lane-Arellano said. “We’re hoping the city adjusts back to a more proactive approach to ensure we still have a safety net for folks when they arrive.”
Lane-Arellano wants to see the city receive more federal funding that isn’t tied to immigration status, but also wants more communication about how the city can best support migrants coming in and how much funding it still has for these efforts.
“We do believe that the city needs more funding from the federal government and support — and we appreciate the support the city has provided over the last few months — but we’re really concerned about the shift in approach,” Lane-Arellano said.
Work authorization for migrants
While Polis and Hancock said in the letter that federal agencies direct them to the humanitarian assistance funding in DHS’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, neither Colorado nor Denver have received adequate funding despite multiple requests. The letter says the program funded less than 4% of the costs the state and city have incurred, with Denver being reimbursed enough to cover just one week’s worth of services.
“We remain deeply concerned that our jurisdictions will not be fairly reimbursed for shouldering this unprecedented federal responsibility,” the letter reads. “While we appreciate any funding we can obtain to assist with this crisis, the funding we received is minuscule compared to the critical needs we faced and are facing on the ground. If the Administration requests a supplemental appropriation from Congress, there must be dedicated dollars to interior cities and states to help support migrant arrivals.”
Denver first started emergency operations to support migrants coming to the city in December, providing shelter and warming stations during the winter. The city’s support operations changed as resources thinned and the influx slowed, and there are fewer new arrivals now than there were during the winter.
Polis and Hancock also asked DHS to grant work authorization for incoming migrants so they can “have an opportunity to integrate into and contribute to our communities” independently.
“While it is true that southern border states are experiencing a tremendous challenge associated with the immediate reception of migrants, interior states are receiving those same individuals within 2-5 days, as DHS and state-funded nonprofits are sending them into the interior of the United States to decompress the border,” Polis and Hancock wrote. “To be frank, the border is now right on our doorsteps and distinctions based on geographic proximity are not as salient.”
Lane-Arellano said to CIRC, the end of Title 42 is “long overdue,” as the policy “was never about public health — it was always about trying to end our asylum policies.”
“It’s been really effective at blocking thousands of people from seeking safety, including families and children who are pursuing legitimate claims of asylum,” Lane-Arellano said. “So we’re happy to see Title 42 ending, and we think this is an opportunity for the state and for cities across the U.S. to step up and support folks in line with our values.”
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