Denver Mayor Mike Johnston created a how-to guide for cities welcoming new immigrants

One tip in the playbook: “Offer onward transportation to another destination.” 
3 min. read
Mayor Mike Johnston holds a press conference about budget cuts and a new program for asylum seekers arriving to Denver. April 10, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s office has distributed a guide to other cities dubbed the Newcomers Playbook — an instruction manual for welcoming and aiding new immigrants.

Johnston's office described his city as "the national leader on this topic," in a statement.

“Over the last year and a half, despite the federal government failing to support our cities, Denver has led by building sustainable systems that help newcomers get back on their feet and turning a crisis into opportunity,” he said.

Johnston, of course, has also acknowledged Denver's initial response to new immigrants was unsustainable, and whether his efforts to stabilize the city's response will work is still largely untested.

The city spent tens of millions sheltering families in hotels, before kicking them out. Earlier this year, agencies faced the possibility of 10% to 15% budget cuts, and city workers panicked that they would lose their jobs or be furloughed. Happily, that did not occur.

Instead, most city departments have seen roughly 2% cuts in frozen positions, office supplies, subscriptions and other items, as the city has cut back its general operation to fund its new immigrant programming. 

The Newcomers Playbook describes the city’s emergency response and attempt at a more sustainable program.

Since December 2022, Denver welcomed and helped nearly 42,000 new immigrants from the U.S. southern border.

The city has funded onward travel to other cities, temporary shelter, help finding permanent housing, medical and mental health support, legal aid, school enrollment and work authorization.

Earlier this month, the city launched new Denver Asylum Seekers Program that launched this month that will help 1,000 people — a fortieth of the total Denver has supported since December 2022.

That program will include housing assistance for up to six months from the date a person applies for asylum, a pre-work authorization readiness program, and workforce and language training.

“We're proud this playbook will help newcomers resettle in cities with more opportunities, help cities across the country successfully welcome newcomers and reinvigorate workforces,” Johnston said.  

One of the recommendations in the playbook: “Offer onward transportation to another destination.” 

Johnston’s administration has been encouraging migrants to leave Denver and telling them the city has run out of resources. They would be better off going to New York or Chicago, cities that have also complained of being overtaxed and that have taken in many more new immigrants than Denver. 

The playbook also advises cities to meet with city, state, and community partners, document policies and procedures, create an intake center, build a bilingual Spanish-speaking staff, create a budget, and monitor how funding is spent. 

Each family and individual should have a case manager, rapid housing assistance should be granted and workforce services should be used. 

The how-to guide is also a work in progress.

“As Denver continues to learn and evolve with its newcomer response efforts, this playbook will be updated with new strategies,” the guide states. “In its current form, it serves as a framework for supporting new arrivals in your city.”

The full guide is available here.

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