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As Denver struggles to aid migrants, immigration activist speaks out against 'inhumane' U.S. policy

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DENVER — Since December, the City and County of Denver has assisted more than 3,800 migrants who arrived to the city, many of them coming from Central and South America. Recreation centers have been converted into emergency shelters, and the city is requesting donations and volunteer support to help the migrants on their journey (about 70% of the did not have Colorado as a final destination, state officials said). 

After Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced recently that the state would begin busing migrants to larger cities, such as New York City and Chicago, mayors of those cities sent a letter urging his administration to stop the practice, according to a press release from the governor's office. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and New York City Mayor Eric Adams instead urged Polis to join them in pressuring the federal government to find a long-term solution for asylum seekers.

Denver officials also issued a new release Tuesday morning stating they intend for migrants' stays to last a maximum of two weeks, to "ensure we can maintain sustainable, safe and stable operations while continuing to bring our recreation centers back online for the Denver community," the release states.

As political officials scramble to make sense of the migrants' arrival, immigration activists, nonprofit leaders and attorneys say the issue stems from decade-old policies the United States has enacted through immigration laws.

Jennifer Piper, program director at the American Friends Services Committee — a nationwide organization focused on social justice initiatives — said the uptick in migrants from Venezuela comes as a result of hostile treatment toward the Venezuelan government by the United States government.

United States military intervention in Venezuela has caused lasting economic instability and political unrest among the country’s citizens, Piper said. As a result, many in Venezuela have been forced to leave the country and seek refuge in the United States. The process of even reaching the United States-Mexico borders is grueling, Piper added.

“Most of the people we’re seeing have been walking for months, working their way from Venezuela or Colombia to the U.S.,” Piper said. “For people who’ve made it to us, I think of them as people who are very resilient and strong and creative, and also folks who need support and safety and structure in order to overcome the trauma of that journey.”

Colorado Voices

Immigration activist speaks out against 'inhumane' policies

Piper pointed to Title 42, a policy that allows officials to swiftly expel migrants who crossed the border illegally in the name of public health crisis prevention, as an inhumane policy that has created more problems than it solved, particularly in recent presidential administrations.

Title 42 was first enacted in 1944 and was continued under President Donald Trump’s administration at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump initially used Title 42 to close borders to all, then changed it to only ban asylum seekers from Central America. 

“Title 42 creates more disorder in that system and more of a lack of safety for the people who are coming because they can't approach any immigration officials until much later in their process,” Piper said. “There’s no way for any of the folks we’re seeing right now in Denver to approach a border patrol agent and ask for an orderly process.”

The Supreme Court recently blocked the Biden administration's attempt to end the pandemic restrictions of Title 42. Republican attorneys general from 19 states had asked the court to keep the restrictions in place. The Supreme Court will make a decision on the case in February.

Though Denver has seen more migrants arriving in recent weeks than in previous years, Piper said the city sees only a small fraction of what places closer to the Mexican border experience.

“Our piece of this puzzle is really small, with 100 or 200 people a day,” Piper said. “That’s something I feel really confident that Colorado can manage.”

While the Trump administration's policies is often described as the most inhumane to immigrants in recent memory, Piper said flawed policy and poor treatment of migrants is a bipartisan issue, with both Democrats and Republicans sharing the blame.

“The U.S. needs, more than ever, a comprehensive immigration reform that creates humane, dignified, effective entry points,” Piper said. “These old tools of militarizing borders and excluding people are not going to work, both for our safety on this planet and human dignity.”

As climate change continues to wreak havoc on traditional ways of life, Piper encouraged those in Colorado who may not have favorable views of immigration to reconsider their perspectives, as a warming planet could force them to flee their homes as well.

“We live here in Colorado, in a place that doesn’t have an abundance of water, and we all know in the next two years, that conversation will only get more serious,” Piper said.  “This could be me or my family in the next 5 or 10 years from now, so how we think differently about the world and the planet we live on and share is really important."

Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist who can be reached at Her Twitter is @alison__berg.

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