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Mid-size cities seek federal help to support migrants, but resources are limited

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's not just big cities asking for help from the federal government to support the thousands of migrants coming from America's southwestern border. Midsize cities say they need help, too. Colorado Public Radio's Rachel Estabrook reports from one of them.

RACHEL ESTABROOK, BYLINE: More than 30,000 people migrating to the U.S. have come to metro Denver in the past year. Some land in the capital and then go just blocks away to Aurora, a racially and ethnically diverse midsize city right next door.

MATEOS ALVAREZ: We haven't gotten as much attention even though we're receiving very large numbers of migrants.

ESTABROOK: Mateos Alvarez runs the Aurora Economic Opportunity Coalition. His office is at the intersection of the city and two county governments. None of them is coordinating a response, which leaves it up to nonprofits like Alvarez's to fill immediate needs and to try to get the federal government's attention. But a year into the surge of people arriving, they worry they're running out of money.

ALVAREZ: We don't feel that by doing nothing helps the situation. We got to get folks to follow up with their court cases and find a legal pathway forward when it comes to work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

ALVAREZ: That's Aziz (ph) over there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

ALVAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ESTABROOK: People come to Alvarez's door looking for work as day laborers. On a recent Monday, Luis and Douglas Colmenares Guevara, two brothers from Venezuela, are here for the first time. They're pursuing a legal path to stay in the U.S., but their court date is months in the future, and now they need to earn some money.

LUIS COLMENARES GUEVARA: (Speaking Spanish).

ESTABROOK: "God put us on the street. Whoever comes, whatever work they can give us, we'll do," Luis says. They're some of the millions of Venezuelans who have left home to get away from extreme economic depression. The brothers hope to bring their wives and children, too. And Venezuelans are not the only ones coming.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Pulaar).

ESTABROOK: A half-dozen men sit around at a picnic table, speaking Pulaar. They're among thousands of people who've left Mauritania, where some Black residents are still enslaved.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Pulaar).

ESTABROOK: They say things have been difficult since they arrived. Dioudi Deikeod says he comes here nearly every day and only gets work a few times a month. Alvarez, who runs this center, says things changed about a year ago.

ALVAREZ: Immediately, literally in one day, we had more workers than we did work. And we've had that issue ever since.

(CROSSTALK)

ESTABROOK: A food pantry nearby says it's serving three times as many families, including a lot of children.

AMANDA BLAUROCK: We have people starting between 7 and 9 a.m. who will sit outside, and at 12 o'clock, they could then come in and get food.

ESTABROOK: Amanda Blaurock runs the village exchange center.

BLAUROCK: We have people who'll come in and just, like, lay down inside because they have an opportunity just to be in a safe space.

ESTABROOK: None of the governments Aurora nonprofits are asking for help would do an interview. And since the White House isn't taking the lead to coordinate a national response, Blaurock says the nonprofits here aren't getting enough federal funding. They've asked Colorado's congressional delegation for help. The Economic Opportunity Coalition's Mateos Alvarez worries what could happen if people are left standing around, waiting for food or work.

ALVAREZ: It leads to desperation. That's been my - what I've observed. That can move people to make choices that they don't want to make.

ESTABROOK: Dozens of Aurora nonprofits meet regularly on the migrant challenge, but Alvarez says already, some of the small ones have thought about closing their doors, overwhelmed by the need. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Estabrook in Aurora, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELHAE SONG, "KNOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Estabrook