Each day, dozens of desperate people arrive in Denver with nowhere to stay. City officials reported last week that more than 3,650 migrants had arrived in Denver since Dec. 9. Some 1,800 were in shelters each night.

They are refugees from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Myanmar … running for their lives.

The city spent about $3 million to provide emergency shelter and services to these people in the month of December alone. The state of Colorado has set aside another $5 million to help in the response.

And it’s all a made-in-Washington crisis.

Years of self-serving political demagoguery and appeals to our most hateful instincts have left us with an underfunded, outdated, nonfunctioning immigration system at the same time we have a historic workforce shortage, an aging population, declining birth rates and a humanitarian crisis at our border.

“We are leaving the burden of managing this refugee crisis to municipalities and NGOs in the wake of chaos that was intentionally created,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans.

The last time the country updated its immigration system was in 1986 during the Reagan administration. The law made it a crime to knowingly hire people not authorized to work in the country and provided a path to permanent residency and citizenship for millions of undocumented migrants who had entered the country before 1982.

In the intervening 37 years, the whole world has changed, but our immigration system remains mired in narrow-minded 20th-century half-measures and dysfunction.

The impacts of climate change have created economic and political instability, driving waves of migrants to more hospitable climates across the world. COVID-19, the rise of authoritarian governments, proxy wars and all manner of economic crises have destabilized countries and led millions to uproot their lives.

The solutions are all too obvious.

“We need new mechanisms for people to access the immigration process in an orderly way,” Melaku said. “Our system was built 30-plus years ago not accounting for things like climate change and rising authoritarian governments around the world. Our policy and infrastructure systems are underfunded and totally inadequate.” 

As a result, she said, “Waves of refugees and asylum seekers can’t access the system.”

The United Nations reported more than 100 million people worldwide were “forcibly displaced” in the first five months of 2022. That was up from 89.3 million in all of 2021. And that’s just the beginning.

The agency estimates 1.2 billion people will become climate refugees by 2050.

The United States has spectacularly failed even to acknowledge the problem.

Poorer countries — Turkey, Uganda, Lebanon, Colombia — took in about 83% of the world’s refugees.

Among the richer countries, Germany and Canada stand out as welcoming and well-equipped to integrate immigrants into their cultures and economies.

Canada attributes its speedy recovery from the COVID economic downturn and its vibrant economy to the influx of immigrants in recent years. Last year it welcomed 431,645 new permanent residents.

The country said immigration accounted for nearly 100% of the country’s workforce growth and that immigrants comprise 36% of the country’s physicians, 33% of business owners with paid staff, and 41% of engineers.

To keep the pipeline moving, Canada is spending an additional $50 million this year to process applications for residency more efficiently.

The agency known as Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada last week announced its commitment to immigrants saying, “As we plan to continue to welcome historic numbers of newcomers, IRCC has added resources, embraced new technology, streamlined processing, and brought more processes online. 

“As the Government of Canada focuses on addressing the acute labour market shortages we are facing today and building a strong economy into the future, one thing remains certain: immigration is a key part of the solution.”

Instead of warehousing people in shelters and busing them across the country for political stunts, Canada is putting them to work.

A key factor in the extraordinary inability of the U.S. to address the humanitarian crisis and resolve the immigration standoff is racism.

“We can’t have a conversation about welcoming immigrants without talking about race,” Melaku said.

To illustrate that point, she cited the programs to resettle more than 75,000 refugees from Afghanistan and 180,000 from Ukraine in the past year while refugees from violence in Central and South America are turned away at the border.

“When we see what we are doing for those arriving from Afghanistan and Ukraine, it reveals the inefficiencies in the system and at the same time it shows us what is possible,” she said. 

“We need a cultural dialogue and new policy approaches. We need modern infrastructure. And we need to talk about what kind of a welcoming nation we want to be.”

A recent Pew Research Center survey found 72% of Americans support increased refugee resettlement in the U.S. 

Deep down we all know it’s good for the economy; it’s good for global stability; it’s good for the soul.

And putting an end to the devious manipulation that has characterized the whole immigration debate for the past two decades in Washington just might inject a dose of sanity into a political system that all agree has run seriously amok.

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

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