Denver, Colorado – In a bold move to address the growing immigrant crisis, the City of Denver is exploring legal avenues to employ immigrants who cannot work under federal regulations. This initiative emerges as a response to the influx of nearly 40,000 immigrants from the southern border, many of whom struggle to find legal employment due to federal work restrictions.
Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, acknowledging the severity of the situation, met with Biden administration officials last week in Washington D.C., advocating for amendments to the 1980s law that limits employment opportunities for immigrants. The mayor’s office has also approached Congress to alter work authorization requirements as part of a broader border security bill. If these efforts do not yield the desired outcomes, the city urges President Joe Biden to consider executive action, although this could have significant political implications during an election year.
The city’s plan, however, comes with its own set of risks. “Taking a look at that law from 1986 makes clear that the law does not actually say anything about applying to state or local governments,” noted César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor at Ohio State University based in Denver. While this interpretation opens a potential pathway for Denver to provide employment opportunities to immigrants, it remains untested in legal terms and carries a significant level of risk.
The urgency of the situation is underscored by the plight of immigrants like 19-year-old Brian, who, along with many others, has resorted to cleaning car windshields at intersections to support his family. With no federal work authorization, these immigrants have limited livelihood options.
The financial impact of the immigrant crisis is not lost on city officials. Mayor Johnston has informed the city council that the situation could cost Denver $180 million this year. Despite the challenges, the city remains committed to exploring “every single option” to mitigate the crisis.
The city’s exploratory move is seen as a last-ditch effort to provide meaningful employment to immigrants. However, the potential political shift in the upcoming November elections, particularly if Donald Trump wins, could drastically alter the landscape and bring about federal intervention against such local employment initiatives.
As Denver treads a fine line between legal ambiguity and humanitarian assistance, the city’s innovative approach could set a precedent for how local governments address similar crises nationwide. The outcomes of these efforts, both legally and politically, are yet to be seen, but they undoubtedly highlight a critical issue facing many cities in the United States today.