Hundreds of migrants in Denver tent city evicted by authorities over health, safety

Hundreds of migrants in Denver tent city evicted by authorities over health, safety

Trevor Hughes
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Democratic mayors renew pleas for help migrant crisisThe mayors of Chicago, New York City and Denver renewed pleaa for more help over the growing number of asylum-seekers arriving in their cities.

DENVER – Hundreds of migrants living in an illegal tent city near downtown were evicted Wednesday by police and officials who offered them apartments, group shelter space or bus tickets to leave.

The encampment sprung up several months ago and occupied the spaces between sidewalks and streets for multiple blocks. Many of the migrants are Venezuelans seeking asylum and work permits, but are scheduled for court hearings as far out as 2029.

The camp displacement came as Republican officials visited the Mexican border to push the Biden administration for immigration reform, a move increasingly echoed by Democratic mayors in New York, Chicago and Denver.

More: House Republicans travel to border, attack Biden and Democrats over migrant crisis

Seeking the American Dream

In Denver, migrants who traveled thousands of miles to cross the southern border say they’re glad to be in the United States, even if their first few months have been tough. About 36,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to Denver in the past year. Many of those migrants acquired housing because they had federal permission to work, but more recent arrivals lack that ability.

The federal government has issued about 5,000 work permits to people from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba since September, but that’s just a fraction of the number of migrants who have arrived in the U.S. in the last year.

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To learn more: Biden fast-tracks work authorization for migrants who cross legally

“When you come here, you want the American dream,” said Juan Carlo Pioltelli, 32, a Peruvian migrant who lived in the encampment for about a week.  “The guards in Texas told me that you can go to Denver and it would be good. But when we got here it was different. All these people, all we want is to work.”

City officials said Denver has received more migrants per capita than any other big city outside Texas in the past year. The encampment grew up around a small hotel used as a long-term shelter for other migrants, but city officials said it posed a growing health and safety concern.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said the city forecasts spending $180 million ‒ 10% of its annual budget ‒ assisting migrants with housing, food and other services this year.

Officials said many of the migrants moved from the encampment on Wednesday speak no English, have no connection to the city, and lack federal permission to work. Their children are legally entitled to a free public education.

Denver looks for federal immigration reform

“This is not sustainable,” Johnston said after meeting with migrants. “If they arrive and are here for three months or six months or two years and can never work, we’re going to need endless amounts of federal support for those individuals. And not only do they not want that, we don’t want that. They just want to support themselves.”

Johnston said he’s been lobbying federal officials for both cash assistance and work permits. While Congressional action is needed for comprehensive immigration reform, the Biden administration has periodically loosened restrictions on who can get work permits.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has dispersed nearly 100,000 migrants to Democrat-run cities nationally under Operation Lone Star since April 2022, arguing self-declared sanctuary cities should help shoulder the burden of assisting migrants. City officials in Democrat-run El Paso have also sent dozens of charter buses north to Denver, New York and Chicago.

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New York Mayor Eric Adams recently restricted where and when charter buses can drop off migrants, though in a work-around, buses quickly began depositing migrants in nearby New Jersey.

To go deeper: Migrants dropped at New Jersey train stations to avoid New York bus restrictions, NJ officials say

Johnston said Denver is successfully handling the approximately 140 migrants delivered from Texas daily. But he also drew comparisons to the federal management of refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan, who were dispersed across the country through a comprehensive federal plan.

“We are the first and cheapest bus ticket north of El Paso, Texas,” Johnston said. “What we need is work authorization, a coordinated entry and we need federal dollars. With those three we can be successful. Without it, this will be a very hard problem to solve.”

The Denver migrants interviewed by USA TODAY said they traveled from the Texas border, and Denver officials say many of them arrived on buses paid for by Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.

Under standard procedures, they would have first been processed and released by Border Patrol after a background check. Many carry “notices to appear” in immigration court, where they can eventually make a claim for asylum or other immigration relief, in some cases five years from now.

At the encampment, where a tent briefly caught fire by accident during the evictions, Rodney Rodriquez, 31, said he hopes he made the right decision in making a months-long journey from Venezuela, where he earned the equivalent of $10 a month.

Rodriquez said he’s looking for work because he has gardening tools and access to a car, but no money.

And he said he’s tired of living in a tent: “It’s cold every day.”

USA TODAY reporter Lauren Villagran contributed to this report.

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