By David Rutz | January 12, 2024 | MSN
Democratic Denver Mayor Mike Johnston says his city is on an unsustainable fiscal path due to an influx of migrants that’s greater per capita than any other major American city. But he tells conservatives who are angered at the country’s mounting border crisis that his Christian faith guides his desire to help people fleeing desperate circumstances.
Johnston told Fox News Digital that every migrant who arrives in Denver just says the same thing: they want to work. To that end, he called on the feds to provide faster adjudication of those seeking asylum, as well as a coordinated entry system and work authorization for those who arrive in cities like his.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one is eligible to apply for a permit to legally work in the U.S. if they have been “recently paroled” or have an asylum application that’s been pending for at least 150 days. Johnston has pleaded with the feds to make it easier and quicker to get those authorizations.
“Certainly the current path is not sustainable for us as a city,” Johnston said. “This would be a $180 million impact on our budget in 2024 [10%] without some change in that flow.”
Republicans like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have placed pressure on liberal-leaning enclaves like Denver, New York and Chicago by shipping illegal immigrants there and putting the onus on them to deal with the humanitarian crisis. While Democrats have accused Republicans of using people as political pawns, Republicans have pushed back that it shows the southern border issue should be the concern of all Americans.
It’s certainly gotten the attention of Johnston and other blue-state mayors who are tasked with the care and safety of some of the country’s largest metropolitan areas. Johnston, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams held a joint online press conference last month where they called for more federal resources to grapple with the migrant influx. Adams in particular has been critical of the Biden administration for the squeeze his city is feeling; just this week, nearly 2,000 migrants were housed in a New York high school forcing local students into online learning.
Johnston’s office told Fox News Digital 140 buses full of migrants arrived from Texas last month alone. More than 4,600 people are currently being sheltered, with more than 200 arriving daily, and the city is encouraging them to connect with nonprofits and other outlets to either find a way out or attain permanent housing in Denver. With more than 38,000 migrants served by Denver since December 2022, it is the largest U.S. metropolitan recipient of such people by percentage of the city’s population (5%), his office said.
Johnston says he wants to work with people like Abbott in Texas to address the issue, but he says his messages have gone unreturned. Abbott’s office didn’t return a request for comment.
Biden has held office for three years now and migrant border encounters have hit record highs. The administration has found itself torn between a progressive base that fumed at the Trump administration’s tougher immigration policies and the realities of a surge of humanity at the southern border. A recent poll found 63% of voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of border security.
Asked what he thought of the national party and Biden’s handling of the contentious issue, Johnston said it was certainly an “unprecedented crisis.” He also praised Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who has faced calls for impeachment by Republicans.
“If we had more resources at the border, we had more security, we had more administrative officers to actually process people, we could do it more effectively and efficiently. I think the political gridlock in D.C. has kept them from being able to respond in the way they wanted to,” Johnston said. “The thing that has kept us alive the last six months was Secretary Mayorkas by executive order allowing temporary protected status for Venezuelans. We’ve had 35,000 migrants come to the city and find their way into work and housing and be successful, and a lot of that was because of that work authorization that came with that temporary protected status.”
Illegal immigration has long been one of the starkest dividing lines for conservatives and progressives in the United States. Johnston, who was raised Catholic and considers himself a Christian, said he viewed the migrant issue as a matter of faith, and pointed to the passage in the Gospel of Mark, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“There is nothing clearer than to say those folks that need you most are your primary obligation as a person of faith,” he said. “We are called not to serve those who have much, but serve those who have little. And I feel like that’s not just a faith-based commitment. For me, that’s literally written on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, where it says, ‘Send us your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’”
Johnston said he had a person tell him last week he had walked 3,000 miles to get to the U.S. and was ready and willing to work.
“My conservative friends, I don’t think, would ever look that man in the eye and say, ‘Please, please, whatever you do, don’t work. Let’s put you on the federal dole and let us support you with taxpayer dollars.’ That’s not what they want. That’s not what we want,” he said.
To those who would say those jobs should go to U.S. citizens, Johnston said there are more than enough to go around. It’s up to Washington, he says, to take action on what’s the proper border admission policy.
“We have more than enough jobs available,” he said. “We have restaurants that still can’t staff lunch shifts in the city because there aren’t enough staff to keep them open.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Johnston also discussed the city’s ambitious #House1000 initiative, part of a plan to close the city’s encampments and get homeless people under a roof. The city government’s dashboard currently claims it’s moved 1,148 people indoors and off Denver’s streets; the homeless issue had gotten so bad that one upset local resident last year flung human excrement left near his business on the City Hall steps in protest.
“When you come to visit Denver, there is not a single encampment left in all of central Denver, which has not been true for as long as I can remember,” Johnston said. “So both got people off the streets and into housing and also got back open all of our sidewalks and public parks and streets for everybody to use. So it feels like a different world here in Denver than it did just five months ago.”
The Denver Gazette reported the city spent $45 million on the endeavor, and Johnston told CBS News that Denver could spend upwards of $60 million on homelessness efforts in 2024.