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As Denver limits sheltering, mayor expects influx of migrants

Mayor Hancock says there is concern about unsheltered migrants, and that Denver is limited by funding as they serve people arriving in the city.

DENVER, Colorado — The city of Denver said on Friday that they are expecting to see another influx of migrants in the city next week as the immigration rule known as Title 42 is set to expire Thursday.

As of Friday, the city said the shelters are already nearing capacity. 

Beginning on Monday, a release from the city said Denver will only being providing emergency shelter to "newly arriving migrants who have been encountered by U.S. immigration officials." The city will continue to provide support services and resources to all migrants, according to the release.

Mayor Hancock sat down with 9NEWS to talk about the migrant situation in Denver and what he expects in terms of arrivals, services and funding from the city's perspective. 

Editor's note: The questions and answers below may have been edited for context and clarity.

9NEWS: For a migrant who is stepping into United States today, what do you want them to know about Denver?

Hancock: Well, we remain in a welcoming inclusive city, but it's very important that for us to be in the best position to serve you that you have contact with the immigration officials at the border. And so, we encourage you to really make that contact so that you can obtain your A-number. And no matter what city you're coming into, our federal guidance tells us that we are better positioned to serve you if you've had that contact.

The a number why was that so important to the city in terms of, you know, the logistics?

Hancock:  Well, I think it's important. First of all, we're following federal guidance from FEMA that says, you know, [if] we're going to provide shelter and emergency food service...that the migrant that we're dealing with has to have contact with the immigrant officials at the at the border. So that's why it's important, because we're expending a lot of resources. We need to make sure that our partnership has strengthened with the federal government by making sure we're serving those who had contact with migrant officials at the border.

Starting next week, that rule goes into place. What is going to happen to those who did not encounter immigration when they do arrive here in Denver?

Hancock:  Yeah, we'll be able to continue to serve them, but the reality is that we'll be very limited in what we can do from the city standpoint. We'll continue to try to connect them with services that are in our community with our partners, who have been tremendously valuable to the migrants as well as the city of Denver, during all of this.

They first started arriving in November. But the reality is, we are extremely limited with what we can do if you haven't had that contact. We are moving away from the shelter services as a city and really just working on facilitating connectivity services. But we're limited in how we can work with nonprofits, who are our partners who are phenomenal, valuable partners, if we're serving people who don't have the A-number. So, we can help each other if we have migrants who have contact with the officials at the border, and we're able to provide the best service we can to them when they come to Denver.

Are you at all worried that those who do not encounter immigration that they will be unsheltered? Do you worry about tents with migrants?

Hancock:  Absolutely. You know, we want to provide the best service, we want to make sure that they have an experience here that allows them to get more stable, allows for them to become more independent, and allows for us to without concern, provide the best services we can for them. But we can't do that, or we're extremely limited because we have finite resources. We can't endanger our ability to serve all people, particularly the people - the citizens and taxpayer of Denver - without you know, being mindful of what the federal guidelines tells us. 

So, we're doing what we can to send a word as loud and clear. One that we want you to have contact with migrant officials at the border and to we're not sheltering, and we have limited resources. So, you might consider other options and locations in which to go, just know that Denver is really just trying to facilitate with our partners. In order to help them help you, you have to have contact. 

Nonprofit leaders also worry that migrants will end up on the streets or in tents as a result of that a number as a result of the policy that will go into effect next week. If migrants are on the street, do you think that is an image of a sanctuary city?

Hancock:  Well, I don't know what an image of a sanctuary city looks like. All I know is that Denver has values, and our values are that we try to serve and protect and be inclusive of every vulnerable individual in our city. We'll continue to do everything we can to provide the best services. What we cannot do and as mayor, what I cannot do as the trustee of the city, is put the city in a financial bind. I got to tell you, $12 million not being secure that is going to reimburse us really puts a potential danger or dagger in our ability to provide the services to all the people of Denver, including our residents and taxpayers. So, the outlook looks dim, if we don't have a strategy to make sure that we're getting reimbursed for what we are trying to do. 

The reality is this, the federal government has put not only Denver, but many cities across the country - Chicago, DC, New York City, Phoenix - in this particular position by not addressing the immigration system in America. It's the failure of Congress to address it. It's unfortunate that cities like Denver, Chicago are saying, wait we only have so many resources before we start eating into really our ability to deliver services to the taxpayers of city. We can't allow that to happen. Unfortunately, we had to make a tough to call and say, we can only we got to get out of shelter business. And two, we can only really provide direct services to those who have had contact with migrant officials at the border.

I know in 2016, you said that you welcomed the title of a sanctuary city. Is it easier to say that when you don't have to put resources and money into sheltering or housing migrants?

Hancock: We have never stopped. We've always been providing resources. This is overwhelming. This is unprecedented. This is a whole new level of activation and resource allocation we've had to make. We've never seen this level of demand in the city of Denver in terms of our migrants. I still believe that it was never a program, it was a value. It is a value of the city of Denver to be a welcoming, inclusive city. 

I believe our all of our safety begins with being an inclusive city, and that is helping people who are in our city who are looking for support and help to find the support and help that they need. We're not going to stop that. 

What we're limited on is our ability to provide those direct services, particularly when we have a federal government, who has not been very clear in terms of what they're going to reimburse us for until now. And they said that your people must have, and this is by federal law, direct contact with immigration officials at the border. That gave us some guidance. It's unfortunate that it took them that long. But you know what I got to tell you this city has stood in the gap. It has responded with his finite resources.

Our partners have been tremendous to have almost 7,000 migrants come to our city since the December. We have provided for them not only shelter, but emergency food support and other needs and resources. This community has responded tremendously. We don't have to apologize for that. We have stood by our values; we have now had to frame it going forward. Otherwise, we threaten our viability and our solvency as a city. That's my response be as a mayor is to be mindful of what we're doing, and it makes sure that we do the best we can with the resources we have. 

Did you expect the influx to come before the end of your term?

Hancock: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, again, Title 42 concludes in the next week or so. We expect we'll see a number, but we'll continue to manage it as best we can and continue to do everything we can to help those who come into our city.

More importantly, to call on all the resources necessary because Denver can't do this by itself. I've said it from day one, we've asked for support from other surrounding communities. We've asked for support from the Governor and the state. They've helped to the extent in which they can, but it's been mostly Denver. 

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