Two of the biggest problems with the sudden, but also not entirely unexpected, migrant crisis in Denver is that it’s not exactly clear whom to blame — I mean, you can point fingers in so many directions — or, far more important, what to do about it.

Certainly, you can blame the usual suspects, starting with recalcitrant Republicans in Congress who, with a wink and a nod to the party’s longstanding deal with xenophobes, have held up comprehensive immigration reform for decades, including killing the Sinema-Tillis bill just the other day that some thought had an actual chance to make it through the lame-duck Congress. 

All this bill would have done was secure a path to citizenship for 2 million so-called Dreamers — those who had been brought across the border as children — and take significant steps toward fixing our broken immigration system. No wonder it is being rejected.

The bill also would have meant hiring thousands of border agents and postponing the end of a program that prevents many asylum seekers — most of them fleeing oppression in Venezuela and Nicaragua — from crossing the border. Sure, it had something for nearly everyone, but apparently not enough for Mitch McConnell or those Republicans who simply want to blame Democrats for so-called open borders. Meanwhile, Joe Biden has offered a plan and is asking Congress for $3 billion to implement it.

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Maybe the Sinema-Tillis bill would still be alive if Trump had offered to donate some of his $99 cards-against-humanity digital trading cards, for which you get exactly nothing but ridiculous digital images of Trump as a narcissistic superhero. I’m surprised none of them show Trump in anti-amnesty gear heroically blocking desperate migrant children.

As you’d guess, there’s so much blame to go around: Trump’s cynically phony invocation of Title 42, an obscure rule that used the COVID health emergency as a means of blocking asylum seekers from entering the country, accusations that Biden had not been quick enough to change the Trump-era rules, various judges making various rulings that mostly contradict each other and do little more than confuse the border situation, and some skittish swing-state Democrats who had been worried about making immigration a top-of-the-mind issue in the run-up to the midterm elections.

Title 42 has forced many non-Mexican asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting a ruling on their applications.  As we know, cases can take years, and those forced to “remain in Mexico,” as the program is unofficially called, are vulnerable to human rights violations up to and including rape and murder. Following a Supreme Court ruling, the lifting of Title 42 is expected next week, but a Trump-appointed judge has just issued a stay on plans to end the remain-in-Mexico policy. 

So, who knows? The only certainty about the border crisis — including the part affecting Denver — is that it is a crisis. In the past month, 900 migrants have arrived in Denver — more than 600 since Dec. 7 — most of them in need of shelter, food, clothing and other necessities. Even if they crossed illegally, Denver considers them to be asylum seekers.

And if you’re wondering, the normal monthly flow of migrants into Denver prior to the crisis, I’m told, fell somewhere between negligible and easy enough to handle. 

This influx is anything but easy to handle, putting the city, in the words of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, on the verge of a “humanitarian crisis.” And if Denver is on the verge now, there is no reason to think it won’t get worse, with more migrants arriving by the day. 

By declaring a city emergency, Hancock is hoping to get federal funding, using FEMA money, to extend services and to help with the $800,000 Denver has already spent on the migrants. And it could also open up some limited aid from the state.

Of course, there are those who blame Denver for causing its own problem, with its status as a so-called sanctuary city, meaning Denver doesn’t collect or share information on immigration or citizenship status with federal authorities. It is the humane way to treat people caught up in the inhumane immigration wars, particularly since Congress consistently refuses to fix the crisis, but it does make Denver a likely place for the influx of asylum seekers to consider.

At first, when a busload of migrants arrived in Denver, it was assumed to be another of those Ron DeSantis-Greg Abbott-type stunts, in which the respective governors of Florida and Texas, both of whom may also be running for president, very publicly ship migrants to blue states and blue cities. If you want to call it human trafficking, I won’t object.

They, and other governors, have engaged in exporting actual human beings, including children, to progressive havens like Martha’s Vineyard in order to, you know, own the libs as well as to make headlines for themselves.

But Denver officials haven’t found any evidence of political stunts. The problem seems to center on El Paso, a border city that is overwhelmed by asylum seekers. In seeking to lighten the load, organizations in El Paso have apparently been pointing some of the migrants toward welcoming cities, including Denver.

Not all of the migrants stay in Denver, which has become a point of transfer as well as point of arrival, but, according to officials, 472 migrants were sheltered in Denver on Thursday night, further stretching the city’s already stretched-to-near-breaking homeless-shelter program.

If Title 42 is lifted, as it should be, it would mean many asylum seekers would cross the border and some of them presumably head to Denver. The only way this can be fixed, of course, is not by a series of executive orders, but by comprehensive congressional legislation.

The problem is, there hasn’t been anything close to that since the days of Ronald Reagan. The closest we’ve come was Trump’s useless wall, which began as an ill-considered campaign pledge and morphed into a diversion from the need to make any actual progress on immigration reform.

You’ll remember the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan Senate group that included a much younger Michael Bennet, that passed a comprehensive bill but couldn’t get through the House. Now, there is the Sinema-Tillis bill that apparently won’t make it through the lame-duck Senate. Next month, Republicans will take over the House, meaning split government and, here’s a safe guess, little progress on immigration or any other divisive issue.

We can only hope that Denver will be successful in accessing federal funds to help address this migrant emergency. But the sad and maddening truth is, whatever happens here in the short term, it will do nothing to fundamentally address the real problem.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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Mike Littwin

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: milittwin@gmail.com Twitter: @mike_littwin