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The Denver skyline is seen from William Frederick Hayden Park in Lakewood on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Some of the roughly 120 migrants who arrived in downtown Denver in recent days used social media to plan the trip themselves, Denver city leaders said Thursday as they pledged to help the people find long-term shelter.

The mayor’s deputy chief of staff said the migrants were not sent to Colorado by another state’s governor. Officials, however, are still trying to learn more where the migrants came from, including the origin point of a bus that delivered roughly 90 people to the city Monday night.

“There was sort of an informal gathering on social media among those folks themselves,” said Evan Dreyer, the Denver mayor’s deputy chief of staff. “This does not appear to be anything that was organized by another government entity to direct people to Denver. We do not think that was the case — no evidence of that.” 

Denver leaders held a news conference Thursday afternoon to answer questions from reporters and offer updates after migrants arrived in the city earlier this week. Dreyer called it a spike in an otherwise steady stream of arrivals in recent months, about 300 people in all. 

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On Wednesday, the city stood up an emergency shelter at a city-owned recreation center to house the newest arrivals, from Central and South America, including Venezuela. City officials previously said most are in their 20s and 30s, and two are children. 

Denver leaders are still trying to determine basic details about the bus or buses that brought them, Denver spokeswoman Jill Lis said.

More migrants are expected in coming days, officials said. 

“Definitely we are excited to welcome any kind of support from different community groups and there have been some different community groups that have stepped up to (help),” Lis said. “And that’s exactly why we’re here in the emergency operations center to mobilize and coordinate the collaboration between city agencies and other community groups to make sure we can meet the needs of these folks.”

Now, city leaders will continue to try to better understand how and why Denver has become a destination for migrants.

“They are here and we have a responsibility to try and take care of them and that’s what we are doing to the best of our ability,” Dreyer said. “We think this is probably an ongoing situation and we are working on longer-term solutions.”

The immediate concern for city leaders is to ensure, in the cold weather, migrants are cared for, he said.

The city is paying to house migrants through the general fund and it is seeking federal reimbursement support to help cover the costs, Dreyer added. He could not provide a cost estimate or say how much has been spent so far.

Denver is a so-called sanctuary city and county, meaning it doesn’t cooperate with federal immigration officials in attempts to deport residents living in the city without legal documentation.

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, suggested on Wednesday the arrival was part of “partisan games” over immigration — a reference to recent moves by governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona to transport migrants to Democrat-led states, on the claim that they should share in the expense of managing the costs of immigration.

Then Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to members of the media during a signing ceremony for a bill strengthening Colorado’s marijuana packaging requirements in Denver in 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Representatives of the governor’s offices in Texas and Arizona previously told The Colorado Sun their offices weren’t involved in sending migrants. A spokesperson for the Florida governor’s office did not immediately return requests for comment. 

Texas said it has transported nearly 14,000 migrants to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., since April. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said the practice is intended to expose what he calls inaction by the Biden administration over high numbers of migrants crossing on the southern border.

Asylum seekers who recently arrived in Denver are being interviewed to help local leaders understand whether the city is their final destination. If it is not, Denver leaders are arranging transportation to their final destination, said Mimi Scheuermann, CEO of Denver Human Services.

Denver has been coordinating with local nonprofits for the past two to three months to prepare resources in the event of a surge of migrants. 

Laura Lunn, director of advocacy and litigation at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, said it’s crucial the city provides resources to migrants, such as information about how to proceed with the legal system, so that they can seek asylum.

“I would hope Denver remains a beacon of hope for people fleeing violence and persecution,” she said.

Denver’s Office of Emergency Management advised against bringing items to the Denver Rescue Mission or emergency shelters to help the migrants. The agency said it was only accepting monetary donations as of Wednesday afternoon.

Immediate sheltering and housing needs are the biggest challenge for city leaders, Dreyer said. Now, Denver leaders are calling on faith-based organizations, nonprofits and other groups to help provide assistance for shelter and eventually longer term solutions. Those interested in donating or volunteering can visit www.denver.gov/oem for more information.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, to correct the spelling of Jill Lis’ name.

Tatiana Flowers

Tatiana Flowers is the equity and general assignment beat reporter for the Colorado Sun. She has covered crime and courts plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel and Morocco. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, Zumba, learning how to...

Delaney Nelson

Delaney Nelson is The Colorado Sun's 2022 Medill School of Journalism Fellow.