Denver, Colo. ( Associated Press) – Javier Guillén was only thinking of reaching the United States when he made a three-month journey from Venezuela, crossing Central American jungles and spending four days on the roof of a Mexican train called “The goes. Beast” to escape from the police and kidnappers.
But when Guillén arrived in the Texas border city of El Paso last week, the 32-year-old decided on a new destination, some 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) further north across the border: the city of Denver, which he represented just a relatively cheap bus. Ride.
“It’s the easiest place, closest to Texas, and there are people here who help migrants,” Guillén explained before heading to one of the city’s many shelters.
Over the past month, some 4,000 immigrants, nearly all Venezuelans, have arrived unannounced in the frigid city of Denver, with no place to stay and sometimes wearing only T-shirts and sandals. The wave of migrants caught city officials by surprise, already battling winter storms, record-low temperatures and a series of traffic jams in the surrounding area.
While he appealed to the state to open new shelters, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who allocated $4 million to help care for the migrants, made arrangements for those bused further north to Chicago and New York Wanted to continue riding.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, also a Democrat, has already warned that his city is being overwhelmed by the wave of migrants and has complained about new transfers from Denver.
The situation highlights how record numbers of people crossing the border into Mexico are returning north, to cities like Denver, New York and Washington that have long been destinations for migrants, but busloads of them have not happened. Which appear directly from the border at once. and without resources.
“Northern cities are now getting a taste of what border cities are being treated for,” explains Julia Gelat, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “The fact that people show up in clusters, needing basic services, is really new for northern cities.”
In some cases, Republican governors – notably Texas Governor Greg Abbott – have tried to get across that message by moving migrants directly across the border to New York or even around Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in the nation’s capital. . Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis even sent some to the Massachusetts resort island of Martha’s Vineyard.
It is not very clear how Denver became a new destination for Venezuelans fleeing the economic and political chaos of their country. Migrant advocates had already seen a small number of people coming through the border as early as 2022 and warned that the route was becoming increasingly popular.
So last fall, many traveled to the US-Mexico border in hopes that US President Joe Biden’s administration would end a pandemic regulation that allowed the country to automatically return asylum seekers to Mexico . Instead, in October, Biden added Venezuelans to the nationalities included in the ban. Venezuelan crossings at the border were reduced, but then something changed in Denver.
Whatever the trigger, the number of migrants arriving in the city rose sharply in December, sometimes up to 200 a day, as a winter frost hit and spread to a record low. The storm disrupted roads outside the city, canceling scheduled bus trips to destinations in the east of the country, stranding many in a city already struggling to house the homeless.
In response, Denver turned three recreation centers into emergency migrant shelters and paid for hotel rooms for families with children, allocating $3 million to deal with the surge of new arrivals. He redeployed workers to process them, hand them over to shelters and help them on intercity buses. Residents donned loads of winter clothing.
“The city and the state are ill-equipped to deal with this,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in an interview. “Whether they are on the border or in Denver, Colorado, the cities are not prepared for this.”
Amelia Iraheta, an urban public health worker who has been reassigned to work with migrants, says a man said he had walked through the border and came in with a broken leg. One woman, who arrived in Denver barefoot, still had her feet covered in cactus thorns after walking through the desert of the border. Most wore only the clothes they were wearing, unfortunately insufficient for the below zero temperatures in the city.
“Arriving at the end of winter in Denver, conditions were not what I think they expected,” Iraheta says.
Most did not intend to stay for long. The city and state say about 70% of the more than 3,800 migrants who have arrived in Denver since they began monitoring the crisis on December 9 eventually plan to go elsewhere. More than 1,600, the city reports, have already left the city.
The Colorado governor’s office said Polis was not available for interview. “The State’s priority is to ensure that people have the resources they need and are able to reach their desired final destination, as opposed to what other states do to send people to those places, Where he probably had no intention of going. Spokesman Conor Cahill explained in a statement.
Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that has worked with the city and various non-profit groups to help migrants, inspected one of the buses before it left Denver. He reported that all of the passengers agreed that they were on it voluntarily and that nearly all had friends or relatives living in New York or Chicago.
“These are adults who are in control of their own destiny,” Piper said. “The reality is that sooner or later they were going to be boarding Greyhound buses.”
The city has set a 14-day limit on stays in emergency shelters and is in talks with other agencies and nonprofits about opening longer-term facilities. It is not yet clear how Biden’s new immigration policy, which opened an additional 30,000 monthly slots for asylum seekers from Venezuela and three other Latin American countries, will affect the flow to Denver.
“I really think it’s not a passing thing,” Piper said. “Now Denver is on that path and I don’t think it’s going to change for at least another five or six months.”
It may last longer. Alexander Pérez, 23, made an intimidating multi-month overland journey through Colombia, Central America and Mexico like many other Venezuelans. This included a particularly brutal stretch of jungle isthmus in Panama known as the Darien Gap, devoid of roads and riddled with armed robbers and deadly natural hazards.
On the way he kept thinking about visiting a cousin in New York. After a week in El Paso, he took a bus to Denver, intending to continue northeast, but after being met with a warm welcome and, eventually, a hotel room, he reconsidered his itinerary. started doing He concludes that he needs to make some money before continuing.
“Sometimes God takes you to certain places,” Perez says while looking at a pile of dirty snow outside a supermarket.
Perhaps, Perez thought, he could stay for a while and earn some money shoveling snow.