Is Denver a sanctuary city? Is Colorado a sanctuary state?

The reasons that drew thousands of migrants to Denver over the last month are varied. But one thing is clear: Colorado and the city of Denver have passed laws in recent years aimed at making immigrants, regardless of legal status, feel welcomed.

About 4,000 migrants have arrived in Denver since Dec. 9. The city and its nonprofit partners opened up emergency shelters after being inundated with unexpected migrants streaming in from the southern border. The sudden influx has strained city resources so much that Mayor Michael Hancock described them as near a “breaking point.”

Immigration advocates, city and state officials, and experts speculate the laws that govern the city of Denver and state of Colorado may have attracted the migrants fleeing economic and political violence in Venezuela and other Central American countries. Colorado nonprofit groups’ relationships with border nonprofits also likely contributed to people coming to Denver.

Migrants have also said that Denver’s proximity to El Paso, Texas, via bus doesn’t hurt, especially as a temporary stop before continuing their journeys to other states. Officials have said the migrants have come on their own and were not sent by other states’ governors.

Colorado has become “radically more immigrant-friendly than it used to be,” Violeta Chapin, a clinical law professor and interim director of CU Boulder’s Immigration Law and Policy Program. The state’s current protections are a far cry from the 2006 “show me your papers” law that was repealed in 2013 or bills preventing immigrants without authorization from receiving state benefits or employment contracts with the state (repealed in 2021).

“I think immigrants know where to look to learn that, and they will make their way to states or cities that they perceive to be more friendly to immigrants,” Chapin said. “And so places like Colorado that declares itself ‘sanctuary,’ regardless of what that means, means generally to an immigrant who is coming that this is one of the places that’s at least safer for me than perhaps Texas or Florida.”

Immigrants also will often locate where they already have family and friends or where there’s already a large community of people who are from the same countries, speak their languages or worship the same God, Chapin added.

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