DENVER – Governor John Hickenlooper stopped short of inviting migrant children to Colorado from overwhelmed border facilities as he promised to defend any Colorado community that welcomes them.
The Governor's comments came after 9NEWS broke the story of Denver Department of Human Services' plan to apply for a federal grant to house children who entered the United States illegally.
"If Denver or other communities in Colorado want to offer their support and sponsorship while these children are in the legal system, the state respects and would defend that decision," Hickenlooper said in a written statement.
Hickenlooper acknowledged that the federal government must provide funding if migrant children are brought to Colorado.
"This is a humanitarian issue for the entire country," Hickenlooper said. "Clearly the federal government needs to have the resources to resolve this fairly and humanely."
Last week, Governor John Hickenlooper - a Democrat - said at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Nashville the humanitarian issues related to the border crisis should be handled "in the most cost-effective way possible."
Hickenlooper said taxpayers "don't want to see another burden come into their state."
Mayor Michael Hancock says Denver can welcome immigrant children overwhelming the southern border in a morally and fiscally responsible way.
On Thursday, DDHS spokeswoman Ana Mostaccero told 9Wants To Know Investigative Reporter Kyle Clark the decision had been made to apply for the federal grant to serve unaccompanied minors.
Hancock's statement took a step back from that firm commitment, saying only that DDHS and the city are only "considering applying" for the three-year grant.
"The children trying to come to this country without their parents are victims of a humanitarian crisis," Hancock said. "In Denver, we care about kids."
The mayor's statement makes no mention of DDHS' specific plans, as previously reported by 9NEWS. A mayoral spokeswoman told 9NEWS he was unavailable for an interview Friday.
DDHS said Thursday it is prepared to use its 54-bed Family Crisis Center, in whole or in part, to house children from Central America.
The facility, near West 10th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, is outfitted with bedrooms, classrooms and living areas as a residential treatment facility.
"It would be perfect," said DHS spokeswoman Mostaccero. "We have this facility that isn't being utilized at capacity, so we thought it would be a good way to help with an impending crisis."
Denver Health declined to directly comment on its potential involvement in caring for an influx of children in the care of the state.
"We are often counted on to provide quality healthcare for Denver's kids, whether they are local, refugees or immigrants. Caring for those who are most vulnerable is what Denver Health is about," wrote spokeswoman Kelli Christensen via email.
Denver Public Schools says the children could be accommodated in neighborhood schools.
"There would be capacity to serve the students" said spokesman Dave Nachtweih. "It would be no different than foster kids or refugees that we already have in the city."
Colorado has long taken a leadership role in resettling refugees. In 2013, more than 2,000 refugees were resettled in Colorado, most in Denver.
The federal government has struggled to find communities willing to house the immigrant children from Mexico and Central America. The feds expect about 90,000 children to enter the United States by the end of 2014.
The children are often placed in the homes of relatives awaiting a final decision from an immigration court. The process can take years.
Protests have greeted attempts to resettle immigrant children in California and Arizona. Political leaders across the country have spoken out expressing concern or even flat out refusing to accommodate the immigrants in their communities.
DDHS acknowledged the existence of the plan following a leaked memo first obtained by conservative talk radio host Ken Clark.
Mostaccero said she was not aware of any discussions about potential pushback from the community.
"We have not," Mostaccero said. "Because it's not something that's happened yet, it's just an application."
Rep. Jared Polis, who does not represent Denver, said Friday during a trip to the Southwestern border that unaccompanied immigrant children should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they're found to have credible claims of danger if returned home.
"Many of these kids who are able to become Americans will contribute to society and will be great Americans. But there's a process. The sooner it can be resolved for them the better," he said. "You have to delve into the cases. I would say we certainly should never send a child back to their own death or danger."
In an interview with 9NEWS, Polis stopped short of saying that communities in his district should offer to host the children, but said his office would help individual families looking to provide foster care.
9NEWS political expert Floyd Ciruli sees the potential influx of children into Colorado as a political game changer.
"It's making it very difficult for Democratic politicians to try and balance liberal constituencies and ethnic constituencies with the public overall which is really disgusted with the system overall and not happy with the President's handling of it," Ciruli said.
Ciruli says Hancock's liberal base in Denver means "he really can't make a mistake on this."
He sees more potential danger for Hickenlooper, locked in a tight re-election campaign against Republican Bob Beauprez.
"I think what [Hickenlooper] is doing is sort of the minimum he can do and that is to say this is strictly a local decision," Ciruli said. "He knows in Denver it would be supported. In other counties, he has no idea and he's not going to encourage it."
The Beauprez campaign sent 9NEWS a statement late Friday. The statement did not directly address the Denver situation:
Our first priority should be to make sure these children are safe and are returned safely to their families. Our hearts go out to them and their situation. It is infuriating that the President's lack of leadership would instigate this humanitarian crisis and that this entire situation could have been avoided. I ask John Hickenlooper to stand with me in calling on the President to secure the border and get these children safely home with their families.
"I think Bob Beauprez is trying to be really cautious on this issue," Ciruli said. "He is calculating very, very carefully but mainly doesn't want to be seen as unreasonable or extreme because, I think if you're watching the Beauprez campaign right now, it believes it can win."
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