Jan 5, 2023 - News

How Denver became a destination for migrants

Denver's skyline on July 14, 2019. Photo: Chet Strange/AFP via Getty Images

The 3,500-plus migrants who've arrived in Denver over the past month are straining city services and testing its status as a sanctuary for migrants.

Why it matters: The city has built a reputation as a destination for migrants due its resources, economy and central geography.

  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock signed a bill into law in 2017 codifying the city's resistance to work with federal immigration enforcement, along with legal defense and coordinated assistance, shortly after Donald Trump was elected president.
  • At the time, the mayor said his intent was to let Denver's refugee and immigrant communities know: "We've got your backs."

What we know: Denver is operating — at capacity — a reception center, two emergency shelters, an overflow shelter, and several hotels and shelters managed by community partners.

  • The city teamed up with the state of Colorado to launch a fund to pay for services, while clothing donations are collected.
  • Meanwhile, nonprofits and private businesses are being called on to provide additional resources and services.

The big picture: Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee, one of the organizations working with the city, says migrants flocking to Denver is part of a new normal, and she expects the trend to persist.

  • She noted the city and its partners must explore long-term solutions, including asking the federal government to make it easier for people seeking refuge and asylum to come to the U.S. by creating safer — more dignified — ports of entry.

What we're hearing: Piper tells Axios that Denver is a hub to other cities, making it a good starting point.

  • "... It is part of the reason why some folks decide to make it work here," Piper said about Denver's desirability. Between one-third and half of the migrants who come to Colorado ultimately stay, she added.

Zoom in: Ernesto Jose Aponte Acosta, 37, arrived in Colorado with his family last fall from Venezuela, he told Axios Denver in Spanish.

  • He and five family members — including a 1-year-old — trekked across multiple countries and two continents, leaving his home for the same reason many do: Economic and social turmoil.
  • He said friends told him migrants were treated well in Denver, and he's determining whether he can stay permanently.

Yes, but: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' administration responded to the uptick of migrant arrivals — whose immigration status is unknown — by busing some this week to their intended, out-of-state destinations to clear a backlog caused by harsh winter weather.

  • More than 100 migrants left Denver Tuesday to their preferred destination, according to the city.
  • "Colorado is not a sanctuary state, and the Governor is not focused on buzzwords but on ensuring our law enforcement resources go toward fighting actual crimes to help make Coloradans safer," Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, told Axios Denver in a statement.

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