DENVER -- Mayor Michael Hancock's administration is almost certain to submit a grant proposal by Tuesday's deadline to receive up to $12 million from the federal government to support the relocation of up to 60 young refugees from Central America.
According to the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Obama administration is offering $350 million in grants to up to 60 U.S. cities and counties that are willing to temporarily house and take care of Central American refugees.
Denver could receive up to $4 million per year for three years if its grant is approved.
"These are competitive grants. If we don't get the money, another city will," said Penny May, the interim manager of Denver Human Services. "To me this is an opportunity to expand our capacity to help kids."
The rush of immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is overwhelming immigration resources and has sparked protests from people angry at the government for housing border crossers in other communities from California to Massachusetts.
According to a poll released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, 70 percent of Americans think the United States should provide temporary support and housing for unaccompanied Central American minors who illegally cross into the country while their cases undergo review.
On Thursday, House Republicans in Washington failed to find enough support to call a vote on a modest $659 million aid package to address the crisis on the border; and Senate Democrats were unable to advance their own $2.7 billion measure due to procedural hurdles.
"This Congress is doing what it always does: nothing," said state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County, during a press conference at the State Capitol called by Latino leaders who support Hancock's decision to welcome some of the immigrants to Denver.
"But these children are crying out desperately for us to do something. How long will they be treated as refugees? As long as they are fleeing violence and cartels and rape and extortion and torture -- that is how long we will consider them refugees."
Rev. Patrick Demmers of the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance implored Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said he would support Denver and other municipalities should they opt to absorb some of the Central American refugees, to take a stronger stance in support by pushing the Obama administration to officially declare the immigrants "refugees".
"If it's legal [in Colorado] to smoke a blunt, it must be legal to help children," Demmers said.
But some local officials worry that the costs borne by the federal government will eventually trickle down to local taxpayers.
"We are all compassionate people. All of us," said Denver Councilman Charlie Brown. "But the question is how much compassion can we afford? How much compassion can Denver afford? How much can America afford? And what happens when the money runs out?"