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Our View: Denver mayor managing up on migrants

Johnston is setting example for all Colorado cities

Newly on the job, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston has shown his leadership chops on housing policy, homelessness and, most recently, in attempting to manage the high number of migrants arriving in buses from Texas.

We appreciate that he’s stood above the crowd and taken action by ring-leading mayors of other cities also feeling the weight of providing services to newcomers. Johnston is talking regularly with the White House and making appearances on national network news. He’s also reached out to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, saying he wants to work together on a coordinated entry system.

No offense to the position of mayor, a tremendous achievement, but Johnston is only that. He’s managing upward, which we like, looking out not only for Denver’s interests, but effectively all of Colorado’s. He’s setting an example for every town and municipality, saying exactly what’s happening and what his city needs.

Johnston, a Democrat, has a bipartisan message: Texas shouldn’t carry the weight of new asylum-seekers, but neither should a handful of American cities.

Johnston makes clear three things he needs: Work authorization for migrants; more federal dollars to provide services; and an actual plan for coordinated entry.

He keeps the politics out of it. He doesn’t get waylaid by Congress’ inability to a make progress or talk of past stunts by Abbot and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, targeting sanctuary cities outside their states and sending migrants there without warning.

So far, Johnston is focused on the task at hand. Dealing with the situation in a professional way by also saying clearly, calmly, pointedly that it’s not sustainable for his city – or any other American city – for hundreds of migrants to arrive daily.

Immigration and border measures should stand alone as worthy of a bipartisan solution, rather than conflating these issues with President Joe Biden’s request for $106 billion in foreign aid.

Last week, just after Johnston successfully moved about 300 people in an encampment into housing, a bus rolled in from Texas with migrants. Again, they can’t legally work and alleviate any labor shortages. Denver’s already sheltering 4,500 migrants, mostly in hotel rooms, and has helped 36,000 in recent months.

Denver has spent more than $36 million taking care of people, with the cost of $180 million – 15% of the city’s entire budget – expected in the coming year if nothing changes. Fiscally unsustainable.

As reported previously, more than 120 Venezualan migrants are living in Carbondale, drawn by labor shortages, in that town of 7,000. The town, nonprofits and faith organizations are doing all they can to keep people fed and out of the cold. But Carbondale only has resources through March.

Chances are, newcomers will get on the road again and find their way to other small towns and municipalities without much running room in budgets. Including those in the Southwest.

Besides being pragmatic, Johnston is the kind of guy who’s not going to let women with infant children sleep on the streets in below-freezing weather, if he can help it. He’s delivered on his campaign promise of housing 1,000 people in a few short months on the job.

This is the kind of leader we need in Colorado, with its swatches of blue and red voters. By keeping politics out of his actual work, Johnston could very well rise in the ranks of politics. He’s focusing on the humanitarian and fiscal crises, as well as the cleanliness of streets and crime that could come if people aren’t allowed to work.

Johnston is showing if anyone can gain traction on handling the number of migrants coming to Colorado, it’s him. And if he succeeds in quests for work authorization, more federal dollars and coordinated entry for migrants, we won’t address as Johnston mayor.

One day, we might call him governor or senator.