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Denver mayor declares emergency in response to influx of migrants

Cots set up in an emergency shelter for people arriving from the southern U.S. border, set up at a Denver rec center. Dec. 13, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty
Authorities opened an emergency shelter on Tuesday, Dec 6, at a city-owned recreation center following the migrants' arrival on Monday night.

Updated at Friday Dec. 6 at 4:31 p.m.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock declared a city-wide emergency on Thursday in response to the ongoing influx of migrants from the southern border. The emergency declaration gives authorities access to additional resources and funding.

The declaration comes a day after Denver opened a second emergency shelter to accommodate the migrants. Like the first, the second shelter is also located at a recreation center. A third recreation center is being used as a reception site, where arriving migrants can access the shelters and other resources. Authorities opened the first shelter following the arrival of a large group of migrants on Monday, Dec. 5.

Officials say about 800 migrants have been served by city-run shelters over the last few weeks. More are arriving on a daily basis, with 130 arriving in the city Thursday night. 369 migrants are currently staying at city emergency shelters, and 156 are staying at other locations, such as church-run shelters.

"This influx of migrants and our current space and staffing challenges have put an immense strain on city resources to the level where they are on the verge of reaching a breaking point," said Denver Mayor Hancock on Thursday.

He also says there is no indication that their arrival is politically motivated or facilitated by any government entities.

More than 150 migrants have been accommodated at the city emergency shelter, with others going to a church-run site or leaving shelters to reunite with family or friends already living in Colorado.
Kevin J. Beaty
More than 150 migrants have been accommodated at the city emergency shelter, with others going to a church-run site or leaving shelters to reunite with family or friends already living in Colorado.

According to the city’s office of emergency management, a group of about 90 individuals arrived at Union Station late on Monday, Dec. 5. Denver Rescue Mission, which is working with the city to continue providing shelter and resources, sheltered about 50 members of the group at its facility on Lawrence Street that night. Denver Rescue Mission could not accommodate everyone, prompting the city to open the first emergency shelter.

“We're trying to just meet them at their baseline needs of shelter and food at this point,” says Denver Rescue Mission’s Public Relations Manager Stephen Hinkel. “We all deserve the basic needs of life, and that's what we're going to provide these immigrants with while they're in our city.”

Officials say the migrants are from Venezuela and other countries in Central and South America, and most likely came to Denver through El Paso, TX. Groups of them have been arriving in the city at increasing rates over the last few months, many making their way into the city's shelter system.

Denver Rescue Mission sheltered some of the migrants on Monday night at its Lawrence Street location.
Lucas Brady Woods
Some of the migrants stayed at Denver Rescue Mission's Lawrence Street shelter Monday night.

“We know that there are better ways to treat asylum seekers,” says Colorado Senator Julie Gonzales, who has sponsored state-level immigration legislation in the past. “I call on our members of Congress to really push for comprehensive immigration reform.”

She also says the state has the resources to support and resettle these migrants, like the Office of New Americans, which is meant to integrate immigrants and refugees. Colorado also has legal defense fund to help navigate the immigration system.

The arrivals in Denver this week follow a recent push by republican governors to transport thousands of migrants from the southern border to blue cities. Earlier this year, Republican-led states transported migrants to Democratic strongholds like New York City, Martha’s Vineyard and Philadelphia.

The City and County of Denver is not able to accept donations at this time and is instead directing people to the Denver Community Church, Americans Friends Service Committee, and Colorado Hosting Asylum Network.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.
As KUNC's Senior Editor and Reporter, my job is to find out what’s important to northern Colorado residents and why. I seek to create a deeper sense of urgency and understanding around these issues through in-depth, character driven daily reporting and series work.