A bus carrying more than two-dozen asylum-seeking families from the U.S.-Mexico border arrived in Denver about 2 a.m. Monday, courtesy of the New Mexico governor's office.
The bus included 55 people, mostly from Central America, a portion of the spillover population from the churches and homeless camps filled with about 1,000 immigrants a day arriving in El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, N.M., said Ruben Garcia, founder and executive director of Annunciation House, an El Paso organization that helps immigrants.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the bus available Sunday for the 10-hour drive, because U.S. immigration officials refuse to transport those allowed into the country more than eight hours from their entry point, Garcia said.
Besides helping house, clothe and feed the asylum-seekers for a few days, volunteers in Denver will help them connect with relatives and find transportation to their next destination.
"It would be totally coincidental if any of those 22, 23 families has relatives in Denver and stay there," he said, predicting that most will be gone from Denver by about Wednesday.
Garcia said there is no plan to send more buses to Denver; the offer of a bus from Grisham was an opportunity volunteers couldn't turn down.
"We hope the governor will make other buses available, but, obviously, it's expensive," Garcia said, adding that it's the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement's responsibility to accommodate those granted asylum.
"ICE is the one that's supposed to take them," he said. "ICE won't do it, so this was a one-time opportunity and we wanted to test it out."
Lujan Grisham spokesperson Claudia Tristán said the Colorado governor's office was notified, but not until after the bus had arrived in Denver.
"Since this was handled by NGOs [non-governmental organizations], basically a group of churches, that wasn't necessary," she said, adding that the two governors' staffs have since talked. "It wasn't a state-to-state operation."
One of the destinations is the First Unitarian Society of Denver.
Gov. Jared Polis' office issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying, “The governor believes that our immigrant community enriches the culture of our state and he supports the important work of local nonprofits that provide vital humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers. This is another example of just how broken our country’s immigration system is and how desperately we need reform and leadership from the Trump administration on this area.”
Tristán said the bus cost the state of New Mexico about $4,000. State and local leaders were forced to do something after federal agents dropped off the asylum-seekers at a bus stop in Las Cruces, about 45 miles north of the border, on Friday. The shelters there already were full, Tristán said.
Future buses to relieve overcrowding at the border would be dependent on donations made to the nonprofit Santa Fe Community Foundation, which already has a fund to help refugees and asylum-seekers, she said.
The Annunciation House in El Paso also is raising money to help those stuck without money or food at the border.
Stephanie Donner, a former legal counselor to Gov. John Hickenlooper and a member of his presidential campaign, took a group of about 35 Denver leaders to the border at El Paso in March.
The women — professionals in business, politics and philanthropy — saw families living under bridges and fed dinner to the asylum-seekers through the Annunciation House.
"It's unsustainable in terms of processing these people," said Donner, who grew up in El Paso.
A Spanish speaker, she is informally helping the immigrants who came to Denver, delivering them breakfast Monday morning.
"The 55 won't be here very long, but one of the things they need help with is transportation, getting people to the airports or to a bus station," Donner said. "That's already in motion. It'll be quick. It's just like in El Paso. All these people passing through, they don't stay there. El Paso is just a gate-keeper."