On Tuesday, the city announced it was opening an emergency shelter at an unnamed rec center to house 100 migrants who arrived without warning. We still don’t know where they came from, and under what circumstances, but we do have a little more information about what transpired.
As of Wednesday night, 110 migrants were staying at the city’s emergency shelter, according to a statement from Denver’s Office of Emergency Management.
Mikayla Ortega, spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management said people arrived at Union Station sometime on Monday night and made their way to the Denver Rescue Mission from there. She didn’t know if they made the near-mile trip on foot, or how they knew where to go.
Stephen Hinkel, spokesperson for the Rescue Mission, said the shelter was already hosting 50 people who’d recently crossed the border when the large group arrived. They helped that group get onto buses to the city’s rec center space on Tuesday.
People who work at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s local offices told us they had no knowledge or information about the migrants. Ortega told us they were from Central and South America, including Venezuela, but added most people did not want to talk about where they came from.
“It’s a natural distrust of government, so we’re working to build relationships with them to see what we can establish as for their origin,” she told us.
Bianey Bermudez, who works with the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, is acting as a spokesperson for a group of nonprofits that mobilized to help the city care for the people who are now staying at the rec center. She said they would not release the location of the emergency shelter due to the situation’s “sensitive” nature.
Denverite did learn the location, which we will also not name to respect the privacy of the people staying there. But we did swing by to see what we could.
We spoke to a source who was inside the shelter but requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the organizations.
“I thought I’d see a lot of kids, a lot of chaos, but no. It was really calm. Some were sleeping on their beds. Some were sitting on them. Some were walking around,” the source said. “I only saw one lady with two children there, and then the rest all seemed like men and women between the ages of 19 and 40.”
Bermudez said that people who want to lend a hand can sign up at this Google form. Denver Emergency Management said people should not show up at the Rescue Mission with donations.
Mayor Michael Hancock tweeted that Denver “is and always will be a welcoming community” and that the city is supporting people “with the humanity and dignity they deserve while facing such a difficult situation.”
The city will also activate its emergency operations center, as it did in January 2021 to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hans Meyer, a local immigration attorney who is not working directly with the migrant group, said legal help will almost certainly be part of that support.
While it’s not clear how they got here, he said it seems very similar to a September episode in which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chartered a bus to New York City. If that’s the case, Meyer said, there’s a great risk that people staying in Denver could miss crucial court dates in their immigration and asylum cases. People in immigration proceedings must inform courts if they have a change of address to receive notices about the times and locations of their appearances.
“These folks are really facing being denied their day in court,” he said. “If they don’t show up, they get deported. This is high stakes.”
A spokesperson for ICE later wrote that migrants worried about court notifications should update their addresses on the agency’s website. A lawyer with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network said attorneys with the nonprofit and from private practice have already begun donating their time.
This article has been updated with the latest count of migrants staying at the city’s emergency shelter, plans to activate the emergency operations center and a note about legal aid and check-ins.