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Denver scrambles to find space for migrants

Tension between the Auraria Campus, which had been hosting a migrant intake center, and the city spilled out Tuesday night.

DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock plans to reactivate the city's emergency operations center to deal with an influx of migrants that overwhelmed nonprofit partners Tuesday, causing a public scramble to find places for people to sleep. 

The Auraria Campus accused the city of making "false promises" of assistance as the campus struggled to deal with hundreds of migrants who came to the campus for intake processing and needed places to sleep. 

Auraria spokesperson Rebecca Villanueva-Ruiz said leaders there pleaded with the city for help and were not getting a response.

Late Tuesday night, a representative from the campus said nearly 40 migrants went to shelters, and the state bought hotel rooms for about 20 people who traveled with young children. 

Hundreds more were packed into St Cajetan's, a historic church on the campus which was well beyond its capacity. Some could be seen sleeping on the floor of the church vestibule. 

Still, some migrants set up makeshift blanket pallets on grassy areas outside the building -- intending to sleep outside Tuesday night, despite severe weather threats including the possibility of hail.  

“It has been very hard,” Yudazi Caldera, a migrant from Venezuela, told 9NEWS in Spanish. 

She said her family spent nearly a year traveling through Latin America and Mexico to make it to the United States. After six months of waiting for a legal immigration appointment, she said they crossed the border into Texas illegally over the weekend.

Caldera, her husband, son and two dogs arrived in Denver Tuesday morning. They plan to settle here “because we feel like there’s not that much discrimination here against immigrants,” she said.

She expressed gratitude for food, offered by nonprofits like Food Bank of the Rockies outside of St. Cajetan's. 

“It’s really important for us because we don’t have a lot of resources or money to buy food, and it’s really helpful for us migrants,” she said.

But Caldera expressed trepidation at an uncertain future in the city, which is now grappling with the arrival of hundreds of people in similar positions every day.

“It has been so much discrimination toward migrants. I hope that this state doesn’t discriminate us like other countries,” she said.

"What’s happening at the border is directly affecting Denver, Colorado tonight," Auraria CEO Colleen Walker said. "The problem isn’t going away, so it is absolutely urgent that the City of Denver come up with a solution that can be more long term."

Earlier this week, migrants slept at a parking garage on the Auraria campus, where the city had a processing center. A spokesperson said that parking garage is unavailable as a severe weather shelter because it was used as parking for Nuggets fans during the game at Ball Arena Tuesday night.

In a statement, a city spokesperson said Mayor Michael Hancock has authorized the reactivation of Denver's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday morning. The city said it is “aware of the overflow at the Auraria site” and is “working diligently to find spaces for the displaced migrants.” 

"It’s important to note that the significant influx of migrants who arrived in our city earlier this week taxed the resources currently available to serve migrants, which include four shelter locations," the spokesperson said.

In a previous influx of migrants around Christmastime, the city opened its rec centers as emergency shelters. It's unclear whether the city plans to do the same in the coming days. 


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