Less time, less flowers: Denver’s refugee crisis may overpower the city’s empathy

Denver's refugee crisis | Image Credit: fox21news.com
Denver’s refugee crisis | Image Credit: fox21news.com

DENVER – In the medians, no more flowers. cuts made to DMV and recreation center hours. a moratorium on employment in some city agencies.

In the face of rising prices and a chronic housing scarcity, Denver officials are finding it difficult to service the city’s tax-paying citizens as well as the more than 40,000 migrants who came in less than a year. Denver, a city that bills itself as a sanctuary, has helped the migrants find housing, gotten their children into schools, given them emergency food aid, and taught them how to fill out paperwork.

It’s a large-scale, costly endeavor in a city unaccustomed to handling such difficulties.

And now the generosity of the city is starting to reveal some fractures.

Denver officials are considering budget sacrifices in order to continue providing help to the migrants, after the city has already spent over $60 million on their needs. While a hurriedly assembled network of organizations and churches has stepped in to offer assistance, numerous neighboring communities have declined to take in or support migrants.

Ismael de Sousa, a longstanding bakery owner in Denver who was born and raised in Venezuela, said, “We overextended a while ago.” He has debated whether to welcome newcomers into his own house. The difficulty lies in the fact that you never know who you’re going to let inside for an extended period of time.

In Denver, the migrants have set up dilapidated tent villages next to posh apartment complexes, filled up medians to provide windshield-washing services, and set up makeshift money-begging signs on street corners. In contrast to previous years’ migrant arrivals, the majority of the current arrivals are impoverished Venezuelans who lack access to the customary informal social support network that may help them locate accommodation with friends or relatives and covert employment.

De Sousa, 39, reported that despite their lack of baking skills, English proficiency, and work authorization, he has observed a constant influx of migrants applying for jobs at his Reunion Bread bakery. He claimed that knowing they have little alternatives; it is devastating to turn them away. He just put together a communal feeding drive for migrants.

“I needed to take action,” he declared. “But there’s not much I can do; I’m only a tiny baker.”

After crossing the Mexican border, a large number of the migrants were transported 600 miles north by bus to Denver under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, which distributes migrants to sanctuary towns. Denver is now in the forefront of the highly contentious national immigration debate thanks to Abbott’s efforts. According to municipal officials, during the past year, Denver has welcomed more immigrants per capita than any other major city outside of Texas.

President Joe Biden pushed Congress to enact an immigration reform bill that would strengthen border security and expedite the procedure by which immigrants receive hearings to decide whether they can stay in the country during his State of the Union address on Thursday. In February, a bipartisan border measure with those objectives was crushed by Republicans.

In the event that he is reelected, former President Donald Trump has threatened to begin a countrywide deportation campaign and charged that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”

According to Biden, the United States should continue to be a welcoming nation because “we are the only nation in the world with a heart and soul that pulls from old and new.” He argued that such language demonizes migrants.

The immigrant community is becoming more visible to many Denver locals, who live in a city that is noticeably richer, whiter, and more educated than the rest of the nation. According to some Abbott supporters, this is the main goal of the operation—making Americans deal with the issues brought on by the country’s flawed immigration system on a personal level.

The influx of migrants has created a rift amongst neighbors, leading Democratic mayors such as Denver Mayor Mike Johnston to call for a more robust response from Biden’s administration. Although it has since reduced that amount, Johnston stated in January that the city was on pace to allocate 10% of its total yearly budget to supporting migrants.

Johnston told USA TODAY, “What we don’t want is for individuals to come here at one in the morning in T-shirts and sandals with two little children and wind up homeless on the street in ten degree temperatures.” “While we hope that doesn’t occur, we also understand that there is a limit to the number of services we can offer. To get there, we’ll need to reduce the number of people and services we can offer while still figuring out how to balance the budget.”

Varying opinions on the amount of help that the government should give

Abbott has dispatched almost 104,000 migrants to Democratic towns that had previously proclaimed themselves to be “sanctuary cities,” namely Chicago, New York, and Denver. A sanctuary city is a place that offers safe haven to immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, and refuses to help federal immigration agents find them, even though the word has no legal significance.

Tens of thousands of hotel vouchers, hot meals, and millions of dollars in monetary aid have been provided by Denver to migrants over the past year; this has angered some residents who are already having difficulty making ends meet due to rents that are thirty percent more than the national average.

Abbott and other Texas authorities claim that the volume of migrants entering the country from Mexico is too much for border towns to handle, and they are only shifting the load to areas that have demonstrated a commitment to welcoming and assisting migrants. Denver has never legally passed a policy like to Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance,” which publicly enshrines its practices.

Abbott said last month that “Texas will not stop until President Biden secures the border.”

Denver municipal officials say they’re making a concerted effort to strike a delicate balance between their legal obligations and humanitarian needs. Johnston also expressed amazement at the apparent joy some Texas officials seem to take in having gotten Denver into trouble.

While Johnston has urged other mayors to support Denver by welcoming immigrants, many have either flatly rejected his requests or choose to ignore them. Some cities have just given out bus passes and relocated the migrants.

Johnston expressed his amazement at seeing elected politicians who appeared to take great pleasure in seeing citizens or communities suffer. “We’re not constructed like that here, and it’s not how we’ll go forward.”

“There truly is a nonpartisan drive to succeed in Denver,” he continued. We’re not the kind to point fingers or offer explanations, but we’ll find it out anyhow. I wish we had that across the nation. We just put forth more effort and collaborate.”

Churches work to determine how best to help

Recently, two little brothers drove a plastic toy firetruck over the carpet, batted a balloon, raced about the dingy church gym as others tried to sleep on foam mattresses, and then settled down to watch videos on their mom’s phone. They clung to their father, smeared breakfast all over the floor, and insisted on playing patty-cake with total strangers.

Their mother seemed worn out. Their father seemed worn out. The pastor of the church is worn out. Everyone in their immediate vicinity seems worn out. However, the lads were looking forward to this new experience, their new gadgets, and their new temporary residence in a peaceful Denver area.

Will Daniel Garcia Torres, 4, nudged a guest in Spanish to “eat more,” while his 6-year-old brother Wisler Fabian Garcia Torres slept peacefully on the ground and held out a cup of crunchy chocolate cereal flakes. “That is intended for you.”

The two boys traveled about 3,000 miles from South America to the Mexican border with their parents. There, they entered Texas, turned themselves in to federal officials, and were allowed to stay until their immigration court date in 2025.

The boys’ parents think that by making the perilous and drawn-out trek to the United States, they would be able to improve their sons’ lives and have access to better employment and income than they had in Venezuela.

Venezuela scares me,” their mother, 42-year-old Lisbeth Torres, declared. “This nation is superior.”

Authorities placed them on a bus to Denver after they arrived in Texas. Torres is unaware of the employer of those authorities or the reason behind the GPS tracker anklet that was attached to her husband’s leg. She doesn’t speak any other language, therefore the only compassion she has experienced thus far is from strangers. According to Torres, they don’t have any relatives, friends, or job opportunities here. She also worries about the boys’ schooling.

She said in Spanish, “The children aren’t learning.” “We are unemployed. Our house is not stable. Sad that they have to be in this predicament.”

Even though they are facing difficult challenges right now, she is still happy they moved to the United States, where there are more options. Their two adult children departed to find employment in Ecuador and Colombia, two nearby countries, before Torres and her husband departed Venezuela in October. The situation deteriorated further at home, and her husband—a butcher running his own little business—came under constant threat of extortion while the local currency was almost nonexistent.

They left for the United States in the north, hardly able to feed their boys.

She declared, “It’s not right that they have to go without food.” “Our only choice was to leave.”

Torres expressed her gratitude to the Denver church for providing the hot meals and shelter. However, her true desires are to get a job, send her children to school, and help her family establish themselves in their new nation.

“This is a place where we may succeed as long as we have trust in God and we keep battling,” the woman remarked. “We Venezuelans are renowned, but it’s hard,” she remarked. “Are you aware of the struggles we faced to get here? You don’t believe we could pick up English? “I already have Fabian translating for me,” she chuckled.

She gave her son a call. “You know how many numbers?”

In response, he said in English, “One, two, three, four, five..”

Seeing local officials struggle to deal with the influx of newcomers, Pastor Keith Reeser was motivated to create the shelter at Denver Friends Church in November for families just like the Torres clan. Fire officials were ready to allow Reeser to open its doors to migrants since the church had originally housed a preschool. Now, after receiving a hot supper, up to 29 people each night sleep on mattresses in the gym.

Reeser stated that it is evident that Denver is overburdened and that the federal immigration system is flawed. But, he added, it’s equally critical to keep in mind that every immigrant is a unique individual with goals and aspirations, not just a statistic or a caricature.

He declared, “What we do for them impacts them for centuries.” We are discussing an everlasting effect. We will raise their kids’ kids’ kids here.”

Reeser said there has been much internal discussion about whether offering an overnight shelter is the most effective way to help, since his church has struggled to survive on donations and volunteers. Citing insurance and personnel concerns, a few churches in the Denver region have declined to provide sanctuary to migrants, opting instead to allow municipal officials use public funds to book hotel rooms.

Given the absence of a clear plan for what should be the “United” States, he is dedicated to doing what he can.

“Anybody with a heart could kindly stand at our church’s door and say, ‘Good riddance, get out of here.'” stated Reeser. “We claim to be followers of Jesus. We are taught to love the wounded, the homeless, the widowed, and the children, yet in the cities we live in today, many are starving and without access to basic necessities.”

Nonprofits and locals assist migrants with housing, finances, and skills

While Denver municipal authorities have had difficulty funding their aid, other companies and NGOs are contributing as well.

For months, a group of mothers in the city’s Highlands district have been arranging hot meals, house stays, unpaid jobs, computer and English courses, and assistance with paperwork through Facebook. Within the organization, immigrants work as landscapers and housekeepers, while mothers gather money to purchase supplies and equipment for the just arrived.

The organization also provides advice on how to donate food (avoid hummus or peanut butter since the migrants may not be familiar with these items) and what sorts of clothing or personal items are most in need.

Anxiously, the organizers add, they remind themselves of their relative privilege in comparison to the refugees. They have the cultural background needed to get by in the city, along with residences, jobs, and health insurance. A few of the group’s members have also criticized affluent churches that haven’t done anything to help thus far.

Using his relationships with suppliers and baking expertise, De Sousa, the baker, said his fundraiser is the greatest way he can support migrants. He stressed the need of keeping in mind that every person has unique goals and aspirations and expressed concern that those opposed to immigration would use the recent arrest of a Venezuelan immigrant in connection with the murder of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley—which was brought up at the State of the Union—to sway public opinion against them.

He warned that “it might quickly develop into hatred and xenophobia.”

Last month, the nearby city of Aurora approved a resolution that obstructs the symbolic relocation of refugees inside its borders. According to city officials, they wouldn’t give up their funding to assist immigrants.

Andreina Gomez, 30, is a volunteer translator for the Highlands Moms organization in Denver. She works as a digital marketer. Gomez was born in Venezuela, relocated to Miami when she was a little kid, and eventually followed the Rocky Mountains to Colorado.

Between work from home and ski vacations, she has helped immigrants find employment and immigration lawyers. Gomez was surprised to see the number of migrants rise, along with many other Denver residents, when she heard their Venezuelan accents on the street next to her apartment. She mentioned that several of her acquaintances were complaining about the expenses and effects, ranging from DMV hours to housing rates to budget cuts.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand your aggravation,” she remarked. “However, I believe it stems from a lack of comprehension.”

Gomez claimed that her own mother, a Florida resident, has openly questioned why the recent immigrants aren’t able to get employment like those in her generation.

Many of the migrants who arrive in Denver face months-long delays to find out if they will be permitted to work, as well as years-long waiting for immigration hearings, contingent on how and when they crossed the border. A few migrant aid organizations have made suggestions that they believe Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—who has also sent migrants to other states—have chosen individuals without work permits to send to Denver, New York, and Chicago.

“Yeah, mom, your governor is among those who are putting people in boxes,” Gomez remarked. “I find it unfortunate that we must correct this. However, I’m honored to live in a town that is taking initiative. We are behaving humanely toward these individuals.”