The arrival of thousands of migrants in Denver has the city’s resources stretched to capacity and Colorado officials say they are coordinating transportation for migrants who want to go to other states.
While Republican governors in Florida and Texas have bused migrants and asylum seekers to Democratic states as a political statement, Colorado leaders say the migrants who made their way to Denver didn’t come as part of a coordinated political effort and they aren’t being sent to other places for that purpose either.
On Tuesday morning, New York City Mayor Eric Adams revealed on the local “Sid & Friends in the Morning” radio show that Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic governor, notified officials on Monday that Colorado would be sending migrants to other cities like New York City and Chicago. New York has already been struggling to house asylum seekers who have arrived from Texas, sent by the Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
“This is just unfair for local governments to have to take on this national obligation,” Adams, also a Democrat, said on the show. “We’ve done our job.”
Adams said there’s no more room, but New York is compelled by local laws to shelter people who arrive.
President Joe Biden’s administration needs to address immediate needs, he said, and Congress needs to work on immigration reform.
“We have received over 30,000 asylum seekers that are in need of not only shelter, but food, education for children, health care, some of the basic items that are needed. And this is really impacting on the quality of life of New York and our ability to provide for everyday long-term New Yorkers on the needs they have during this difficult time. So this must be addressed,” he told the radio show host.
In a news release Tuesday, Polis’ office said about 70% of the migrants who arrived in Denver aren’t seeking to make Colorado their final destination.
But “due to weather and workforce shortage, they have been experiencing transportation cancellations,” hence the large number of people suddenly making their way to other places.
The state is working with “culturally competent navigators” to help people make their own travel decisions.
“No one should play politics with the lives of migrants who came here to escape oppression, and in Colorado, we are honoring our values of treating people with dignity and respect. We are simply carrying out our values of treating every human being with dignity and respect,” Polis said in a statement.
He added that states and cities can’t take on the burden alone and Congress needs to step up with an immediate route for work permits and to enact better border security and immigration reform.
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, 144 migrants had arrived overnight in Denver, with 846 in city emergency shelters and 871 in partner emergency shelters, according to the Office of Emergency Management. Since Dec. 9, 3,652 migrants had arrived in Denver from the southern border, many seeking asylum from Venezuela.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has repeatedly called on the federal government to step in and assist in a growing crisis that local governments are not able to handle on their own.
In a written statement Tuesday, he said nearly twice as many new migrants are arriving in Denver as are leaving on a daily basis, with about 1,800 migrants being sheltered overnight.
“States and cities not on the border are ill-equipped to address these challenges, and absent federal support and leadership, we’re left to strategize and take actions to ensure this vulnerable population — people who’ve come here with no resources or means — are safe and treated humanely,” he said.
“I appreciate Gov. Polis and the State for leaning in to support those coming to our city to reach their preferred destinations, and to help reduce the number of people in our shelters and more quickly connect them with community supports and other options.”
Although Denver has seen the largest number of arrivals in recent weeks, migrants are also making their way to other parts of the state like Summit County.
In Larimer County, officials rejected a state request to shelter more migrants, with leaders saying they cannot meet the need, and without a statewide declaration of emergency, there is confusion surrounding legalities.
Hancock declared a state of emergency for the city and county of Denver, which the City Council extended through Jan. 17, to open up more state resources to assist in the response.
Larimer County officials believe Polis should have declared a statewide emergency declaration to make available more federal aid in response to the crisis, particularly as his office requests help from other parts of the state, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald, but so far he has refused to do so.
Polis’ office did not directly address whether the governor was considering a statewide emergency declaration when asked by The Denver Post.
“The state has taken many steps in partnership with Denver and non-profits to help address this challenge,” Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis’ office, wrote in a statement.
“Our emergency management team continues to engage with Denver on a daily, and hourly basis to determine the needs and we will make decisions as needed for this evolving situation.”
This is not the first criticism of how Polis’ office has handled the migrant crisis, with some leaders previously saying the state did not prepare adequately for the potential of the migrants’ arrival, despite the urging of local leaders. But they said state officials have taken the issue more seriously as the migrants have come to the state and have allocated resources to the efforts.
About $5 million of state money has been set aside for the response, which Polis said at a state budget news conference Tuesday was the limit to what the state could make available on an administrative level.
After that, more would have to come from the legislature and federal government, and he said discussions were ongoing with the Biden administration. About half of the state money has been allocated and only a fraction spent so far, with only Denver applying for funding so far.
Denver spent about $3 million on the crisis in December.
“I think it’s important that we have a national coordinated approach to this, and I really hope the Biden administration steps up and shows leadership in this area, particularly around provisional work permits,” Polis said at the news conference.
He added that there’s only so much anyone can do as they wait for asylum claims to process, which can take a year, so he hopes the administration will help with temporary status to so asylum seekers are able to access work permits and transition to their new country.
Reporter Nick Coltrain contributed to this story.
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