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/Denverite,Pool)

Gov. Jared Polis confirmed Tuesday the influx of immigrants arriving in Denver compelled the state step in and help transport immigrants to their "desired destination" — meaning cities in other states.

The City of Denver has been doing this since at least early December when a busload of immigrants, mostly from Venezuela, were dropped off at Union Station downtown.

Since Dec. 9, more than 3,500 immigrants have arrived in Denver seeking shelter, according to city officials.

With scores arriving by bus each day, Mayor Michael B. Hancock has said that the city is near a breaking point under the weight of the humanitarian crisis. The mayor issued an emergency declaration Dec. 15, when the city was housing about 400 immigrants in shelters. As of Monday, that number had grown to more than 1,000.

While the state’s involvement in transporting immigrants is a new development in Colorado, other states — most notably Texas and Florida — already have been doing this.

The key difference, though, is that Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, in September transported immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, which is not typically a destination city, in what many described as the Florida governor sending a political message to Northeastern Democrats.

In a statement, Polis maintained the motivation behind Colorado's decision to help send immigrants to other states is not political posturing.   

“No one should play politics with the lives of migrants who came here to escape oppression, and in Colorado, we are honoring our values of treating people with dignity and respect,” Polis said in a Tuesday news release.

Polis added: “The stories I’ve heard firsthand from migrants are heartbreaking and we are helping these individuals complete their long and arduous journey.”

In a statement that echoed Hancock, Polis said states and cities “cannot continue to bear this burden alone” and urged Congress to step up and create an “immediate route to work permits” and enact immigration reform.

The influx of immigrants fleeing Central and South America is illustrative of the U.S. border crisis. The calamity has spilled over into other cities, including Denver, which is more than 600 miles from El Paso, Texas, where nonprofit groups have worked to send migrants to the Mile High City.

The majority of immigrants arriving have a final destination other than Denver, advocates and local officials have said. 

City officials have estimated as many as 60% of the arriving immigrants have an intended destination elsewhere, often Florida or the East Coast, particularly New Jersey.

'Leaning in'

Every day, Denver sees roughly twice as many immigrant arrivals as are departing. 

Hancock said that, without federal support and leadership, states and cities are not equipped to address the challenge the influx of immigrants has brought the city.

"I appreciate Gov. Polis and the state for leaning in to support those coming to our city to reach their preferred destinations, and to help reduce the number of people in our shelters and more quickly connect them with community supports and other options," Hancock said in a statement.

In attempting to relieve the strain, Hancock has reached out to the surrounding counties and neighboring states seeking help, Jennifer Castor, the mayor's press secretary said in an email to the Denver Gazette.

In Aurora, resources have their limits, city spokeswoman Kim Stuart said in an email. The city is not structured like counties, which have funds for health and human resources services, or like Denver, which is a city and a county, she said.

Aurora is seeking more information about resources offered by the county and state to provide humanitarian assistance for immigrants arriving in Denver, she said. Aurora is also working closely with community partners and is not aware of an increase in demand for services for immigrants aside from at the Dayton Street Labor Center, she said.

The Aurora-based center helps connect day laborers and businesses. 

"Aurora wholeheartedly embraces its culturally rich and diverse community and maximizes its existing resources as efficiently as possible," Stuart said.

Hancock has sought help from the Archdiocese of Denver.

And the Archdiocese has agreed to open up to immigrants the Mullen Home, formerly the Mullen Home for the Aged, which provided assisted living and nursing home care to the elderly poor.

Diocesan and city officials were expected to meet Tuesday to "jointly assess what can be done to make Mullen Home a support for this effort," Kelly Clark, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, said in a statement.

Arapahoe County, meanwhile, said it is monitoring the situation but that its board has not yet taken any formal action.

As of Jan. 2, the city has incurred more than $3 million in expenses, said Jill Lis, a spokesperson for the city and county of Denver.

As the city processes payments, that figure is likely to change, as it already has been adjusted upward.

City officials continue to seek state and federal reimbursement, including a funding request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under its Emergency Foods and Shelter Program, Lis said.

The state, Lis added, has approved Denver's reimbursement request of $1.5 million for sheltering and transportation and other related expenses.

In addition to partnering with the city, the state is working with nonprofit groups with experience working with immigrant communities to coordinate transportation to their final destination, the Polis administration said.

Reporter Jessica Gibbs contributed to this story.

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