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Denver bought one-way bus tickets for 1,900 migrants. Here’s where they were going.

Migrants wait to cross the US-Mexico border from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (Christian Chavez/The Associated Press)
Some of the top destinations were Chicago, New York City, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas

Denver spent nearly a half-million dollars last month buying one-way Greyhound bus tickets to other cities for 1,900 migrants who arrived here after crossing the U.S. southern border, according to data released Friday to The Sun by city officials.

The most popular destinations were New York and Illinois, but also Florida, Georgia and Texas.

The spending does not include tickets purchased by the city so far in January, or spending by the state, which paid for chartered buses for four or five days this month to send groups of migrants to other destinations, mainly New York City and Chicago. 

Denver sent 399 migrants to Chicago and 345 to New York City in December. The city also sent 122 to Atlanta, 95 each to Miami and Orlando, and 68 to Dallas. In all for the month, the city spent $492,000 on bus tickets.

State officials have not yet responded to requests from The Sun for an accounting of the number of people taken to other cities on chartered buses.

Sending migrants to other destinations has been controversial. The mayors of New York City and Chicago last week sent a letter to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis saying they “respectfully demand that you cease and desist sending migrants” to their cities. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and New York City Mayor Eric Adams said they had received hundreds of migrants from Colorado since December.

Polis said Colorado was stepping in to help people, mainly from politically unstable Venezuela, reach their final destinations, where he said they had family or friends. He estimated 70% of migrants who arrived in Colorado during the past month were trying to get somewhere else. But he called off the chartered bus operations after talking to Lightfoot and Adams last week. 

Denver officials, meanwhile, reiterated Friday that none of the migrants was asked to leave the city, which has been housing hundreds of people each night in three emergency shelters set up to handle the influx of newcomers, many of whom have arrived without warm clothing and wearing sandals. Since Dec. 9, more than 4,100 migrants from Central and South America have arrived in Denver.

“I want to ensure that it’s doubly clear that each of these passengers have asked for assistance to get transportation to these destinations and we facilitated their trips by purchasing tickets,” said Mikayla Ortega, a spokeswoman for Denver’s Office of Emergency Management, which is operating the emergency shelters.

Denver’s one-way ticket purchases and the Democratic governor’s short-lived chartered busing operation thrust the state into a national controversy that began last spring, when other governors began sending migrants around the country. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, sent thousands of migrants to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York during the spring and summer. And on Christmas Eve, two buses dropped off about 100 people outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington. The White House blamed the Texas governor, who said he was fed up with federal immigration policy. In September, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, spent state funds to round up about 50 migrants in Texas and fly them to the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, calling it a relocation program.

Colorado officials have said they do not believe the migrants were sent here by any other state, but that they organized their trips based on information from nonprofits and fellow travelers. Word spread quickly that Denver, a so-called sanctuary city because local law enforcement does not cooperate with immigration officials seeking to deport people for not having required documentation, had warm shelter beds and food. 

The migrant arrivals dropped off this week, down to about 50 people per day rather than more than 100 per day a couple of weeks ago. Denver planned to begin dismantling the shelters, consisting of cots and mats in the city’s recreation centers, and asked more community groups to step up to house migrants.

About 500 people were sleeping in the city’s three shelters each night this week, and about 550 at other shelters in the community.