Denver, CO

Denver council demands migrant plan from mayor

David Heitz

The Denver City Council has sent Mayor Mike Johnston a letter asking that he update the dais on his plan for sheltering migrants.

“We are requesting an update on the Border Migration Action Plan, initially provided in September 2022 under former Mayor (Michael) Hancock’s administration,” according to the letter dated Nov. 17. “As we navigate varying numbers of arrivals and in-shelter populations, ranging from 500 to 3,000 people, it is crucial to adapt and enhance our strategies to meet the evolving needs of those seeking refuge within our city and know how staffing and shelter is ramped up and down as those numbers and needs change.”

The letter applauds the mayor for his White House visit surrounding the migrant crisis, but says more planning is needed. ““A comprehensive review of lessons learned will strengthen our collective efforts in updating the action plan to address the unique challenges for Denver's new arrivals,” according to the letter. “Specifically, we seek information on the strategy for varying increments of people and in-shelter populations, with thoughtful considerations for special populations such as families with children and individuals with disabilities. Recognizing our new residents require access to housing, food, work authorization, and social services, we aspire to ensure their seamless integration into our community. Moreover, we are interested in an integration plan that streamlines the compassionate processing of immigration status.”

The letter ends with the spirit of cooperation. “We are deeply grateful to your commitment to the well-being of all Denver residents, both longstanding and newly arrived. We remain dedicated to working collaboratively on a proactive approach to uplift our migrant and refugee communities and dismantle the barriers they face.”

Thousands come from Venezuela

Asylum seekers began trickling into Denver last year from Venezuela and other countries south of the border. After peaking, the flow of migrants into Denver ebbed and then flowed again.

According to the city’s online migrant dashboard, 119 immigrants arrived Friday and 75 rolled in on Thursday. So far, the city has assisted almost 28,000 migrants, according to the dashboard. Currently, 1,941 migrants are staying at non-city facilities such as hotels and 22 are housed in city buildings. The high water point for migrants reached more than 3,000 in October and has declined steadily since then. The City Council has almost drained its contingency fund to pay for the unbudgeted expenses in 2023.

Migrant response costs up to $2 million per week

Denver’s migrant response has cost the city as much as $2 million per week, according to Johnston. Another way of looking at it is $4,000 per person per month.

Johnston said the way the immigration system works, a migrant can be here for up to a year before they get work authorization, even if they have registered. The mayors of the cities who lobbied the White House and senators said they would like to see a system where migrant work visas are processed in 30 days. Johnston admits it would require a lot of administration.

No right to work

Johnston said the U.S. “dramatically underestimated the number (of migrants) we need for work,” Johnston said. Because the city handed out fewer work visas this year, more migrants have applied using the asylum route instead. Johnston said only about 11% of those who apply for asylum get it. Johnston said Republicans want to raise the bar on asylum requirements, which Democrats find unacceptable without increasing the ease of obtaining work visas.

Venezuelan migrants who arrived before July 31 are eligible for work visas. Johnston estimated “50%, 60%, 70% did not arrive before July 31 and do not have a path to work authorization.”

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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