David, left, and Anthony, both migrants from Venezuela, show the papers that contain their respective court dates after being released from Border Patrol custody. Their next challenge is finding the money to travel on to their destinations in Denver and New York. (Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)
All Democratic members of Colorado’s federal delegation are seeking additional support for Denver as a pandemic-era federal immigration policy comes to an end and the city works to support a surge of migrant arrivals from the southern border.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas seeking additional federal funding for Denver as it continues to see more than 200 new migrant arrivals each day. Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver and Yadira Caraveo of Thornton led a letter from all five of Colorado’s Democratic representatives to President Joe Biden seeking prioritized federal funding for the city.
Denver has spent almost $16 million to help over 9,000 migrants since December, with 400 to 2,000 migrants seeking shelter in the city each night. Colorado has spent $8.4 million on the efforts.
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Title 42, a policy allowing border authorities to quickly expel migrants from the U.S. based on public health risks posed by the pandemic, expired Thursday, meaning more migrants will now be permitted into the country. This week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also wrote to Mayorkas asking for inland cities like Denver to receive more federal funding to support migrants.
“Our city continues to do everything we can to respond to this humanitarian crisis,” Hancock said in a statement. “But we cannot keep shouldering this burden alone. We’re sending out a distress signal: we need our federal and congressional leaders to hear it and respond.”
Mikayla Ortega, spokesperson for Denver’s Office of Emergency Management, said the city is working to increase capacity at all four of its shelters designated for migrants. The city opened the shelters in sites such as hotels and churches after closing temporary shelters in recreation centers in January.
As of Thursday, the city had over 1,000 migrants staying in its shelters, according to a news release. Denver saw almost 400 people from Central and South America arrive on one day earlier this week. At the intake center, the city asks each migrant what their intentions in Denver are, and most want to leave the city, so city staff and volunteers will help them purchase bus tickets to get to their intended destination, Ortega said.
We cannot keep shouldering this burden alone. We’re sending out a distress signal: we need our federal and congressional leaders to hear it and respond.
– Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
Denver is also following new federal guidelines requiring cities that receive federal funding to only provide shelter to migrants with an A-Number, an identification number for non-citizens seeking permanent residency in the U.S. Ortega said 98% of the migrants the city interacts with have an A-Number. City staff will help migrants who don’t have a number with travel accommodations and connect them to local immigration resources, she said.
While the city has been supporting migrants since December and preparing for an uptick in arrivals, Ortega said the number of people coming in over the last week is “just beyond what we anticipated.” She said the sharp increase is taxing the city’s ability to process them.
“We’re upping our resources, however, having done this for over four months, it’s very hard — our staff is tired and our volunteers are tired,” Ortega said. “A lot of times we’re seeing that we’re just not able to staff additional people to assist because we don’t have the people.”
Same challenges as border states
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a state of emergency in the city because of the surge of migrant arrivals this week. New York City Mayor Eric Adams suspended the city’s long-standing guarantee of shelter for anyone policy as the city struggles to house surges of migrants from the southern border.
The letter written by Caraveo, DeGette, as well as Democratic Reps. Jason Crow of Centennial, Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, and Joe Neguse of Lafayette, asks the Biden administration to release funding that remains in the federal Shelter and Service Program to support the influx of migrants.
“To avoid further strain on state and local resources because of proper humanitarian support being provided to new arrivals, it is vital that future rounds of funding are robust for both interior and border communities — to at minimum reimburse communities such as Denver for the full cost of expenses incurred while responding to the influx of migrants,” the letter reads.
Bennet and Hickenlooper’s request to Mayorkas similarly asked for additional funding, emphasizing that Denver has only received a fraction of the funding it has applied for through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Their letter said the city requested $2.8 million for costs incurred in December 2022, but was only approved for $909,000 and has only received $248,823 during the first round of FEMA disbursements on May 5.
“In anticipation of the administration’s lifting of Title 42, Colorado and Denver expect to support more than 1,200 migrants each day, and have requested over $50 million in advance funding to provide food, shelter, transportation, staffing, and other services” the senators wrote. “The situation in Colorado illustrates that we face nearly the same challenges as southern border states. The city is striving to accommodate as many migrants as possible, but the system has reached capacity.”
Bennet and Hickenlooper also asked for migrants to be granted temporary work authorization so they can support themselves while being processed and minimize the cost for the government.
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