What we know about Denver’s response to more migrant arrivals and how Denverites can help

The city doesn’t plan to open overnight shelters at rec centers.
6 min. read
Groups of migrants, who recently arrived in Denver from the U.S. southern border, wait for buses to other destinations at Union Station on May 9, 2023. Many people got free bus tickets from the city.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

On a Thursday morning at Denver's newly opened migrant reception center, around 30 people stood in line waiting to register with city staff. Another 30 or so sat in two groups; one for people looking to travel elsewhere beyond Denver and another for people looking to stay. The majority of people we saw were waiting for bus tickets out of town. Tables full of granola bars, water bottles and coloring pages and crayons for kids lined the room.

For the second time in six months, the city of Denver has mobilized emergency operations for migrants arriving in the city from the border.

Daily arrival numbers jumped back into triple digits, last seen in late December and early January. They had dropped back down to single- and double-digits the past few months. But a combination of better weather along the border and the expiration of the Trump-era Title 42, which allowed immigration officials to quickly expel migrants crossing the border without authorization, has sent those numbers up again. On Wednesday, 286 people arrived in Denver.

Here's what we know about how Denver is responding to new arrivals across city departments and working with private partners.

When migrants arrive, the city directs them to the reception center.

There, people split between those looking to stay in the city and those looking to travel elsewhere. Like earlier this year, Denver is buying people bus tickets to other U.S. cities. The city did not say how many tickets it has purchased in recent days, but Denver Human Services estimates that the city has paid for around 4,100 since January.

But even those moving on to other cities often need a place to stay for a night or two until their departure, something that's causing a headache for city officials and has them calling on private partners to offer shelter space.

Denver is currently operating five shelters with private partners. City officials say about 1,000 people are staying in those now and that they are over capacity.

Unlike in December and January, the city is not using rec centers for housing, and Mayor Michael Hancock said the city is not planning to use rec centers that way at the moment.

After leaving partner shelters, people can either travel to other cities, where they might have friends or family already living in the U.S., or work on establishing roots in Denver.

Denver appears to have backtracked on a policy that would have restricted which migrants the city could shelter in order to get federal reimbursements.

At a press conference Thursday, city officials said Denver is serving everyone who arrives in the city. In April, officials announced a new policy in which Denver would only offer emergency shelter and other services to people who had come in contact with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials and thus had an Alien Number (A-number), tracking their case in the immigration system. The policy came as a requirement for receiving federal reimbursement for emergency costs.

Immigration advocates cautioned that the policy could lead to more people on the streets. But this week, officials said the number of people arriving without A-numbers is very small, and that Denver is working with community partners to make sure the city can serve everyone.

Funding Denver's emergency response remains an issue.

So far, Denver officials say the city has spent around $16 million, coming from the general fund and various agencies. The city has also gotten at least $2.5 million from the state, and Hancock said just about $909,000 in federal reimbursements. But city officials called for even more help Thursday.

"We don't have unlimited resources," said Chief Financial Officer Margaret Danuser. "This is an unbudgeted situation for us, and so we are digging into the toolbox and of course reaching out to both the federal government and the state for additional resources that might be available."

Like in December, Hancock called on stronger federal support and cautioned that the city was looking at service cuts. The mayor did not specify what those service cuts might look like, but added that Denver would not disrupt strategies to serve people experiencing homelessness.

In D.C., Colorado Congresswomen Yadira Caraveo and Diana DeGette sent a letter to President Joe Biden pushing for more funding to support cities like Denver.

"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," they wrote Thursday.

Hancock also said Denver is trying to respond as best it can with the effects of Title 42's expiration.

"We knew that this was going to expire in may. Most conventional wisdom said we were going to see an influx in June," he said. "We didn't expect this early influx."

Denise Chang has been working with migrants as the founder of Colorado Hosting Asylum Network, a nonprofit that has helped resettle some families in the area. She said she knew the city had been discussing more arrivals for months.

"I don't know how prepared you can be with knowing how many people are going to arrive and not having the funding to provide for them," Chang said. "So did they know this was gonna happen? Yes. Have they been planning for it? Yes. Does that mean that they can handle it? They're trying."

Hancock said the best way for people to support migrants is with money.

The mayor pointed people interested in donating to the Newcomers Fund, launched by Hancock and Governor Jared Polis in December.

In an update, the city said two organizations will begin accepting clothing and other physical donations in the coming days.

The Denver Dream Center at 2165 Curtis St. will serve as the main donation site starting May 17. The Potters House of Denver on 9495 E. Florida Ave. will also accept donations starting May 22, though anyone wanting to drop off goods will first have to set up a time with the organization by reaching out to [email protected].

CPR producer Rachel Estabrook contributed reporting.

Recent Stories