Apr 10, 2024 - News

Denver launches new "asylum-seeker program" in major migrant strategy shift

A Venezuelan immigrant family pictured in a city-funded apartment on Feb. 14. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver is making a major shift in the way it responds to immigrants arriving from South and Central America as budget pressures and arrivals ease, Mayor Mike Johnston announced Wednesday.

The big picture: The city is rolling out a new "asylum-seeker program" that puts an end to its hotel sheltering system and funnels that money toward supplying six months of rent, food assistance, job support and help applying for asylum.

Why it matters: The new plan "represents a new moment for Denver" — one that will provide new immigrants "for the first time a real path to work and independence," Johnston said.

  • "We're going to share this playbook with all cities around the country. We think we've now cracked the code on how to help people," he added.

Zoom in: With capacity for only roughly 1,000 people in the new program, however, slots are "limited," Johnston acknowledged.

  • Meanwhile, the city will operate an emergency congregate shelter where newcomers can stay and apply to the program as space becomes available.

Yes, but: The city is cracking down on its length-of-stay policy at that shelter, reducing it from 14 days for individuals and 42 days for families to 24-72 hours max.

  • After the limit is reached, newcomers will be expected to move out as part of the Johnston administration's latest strategy to encourage and fund onward travel "a lot more heavily," his spokesperson told us.

The other side: Numerous immigrant and homeless advocacy groups say the city appears to be turning its back on newcomers by more aggressively suggesting they move on to other cities and ending short-term sheltering.

Flashback: Former Denver Mayor Michael Hancock signed an ordinance in 2017 securing its status as a sanctuary for migrants, telling immigrants and refugees at the time: "We've got your backs."

What they're saying: The city is now pushing migrants, including kids, into "dangerous situations," as they're "kicked to the streets or lied to about available opportunities in other states," Housekeys Action Network Denver said in a statement.

  • "The new policy will undermine the effort and successes of newcomers, nonprofits and mutual aid networks and create more housing scarcity in the newcomer community," AFSC Colorado shared in a statement with Axios Denver.

What we're watching: President Biden is planning to issue an executive order to significantly limit southern border crossings by the end of this month, Axios' Mike Allen, Hans Nichols and Stef W. Kight first reported.

  • Johnston deflected when asked by Axios Denver whether he would support such a measure, but stressed that the federal government's inability to expedite asylum claim hearings and work authorization permits remain the city's "biggest challenge."

Go deeper: Denver rec center and DMV hours restored amid shift in response to migrant crisis

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