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County Commissioners in Western Kansas Defend Their Citizens Declaring No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants


By Betsy Barnett

February 9, 2024

At least two of our neighboring counties just over the border in Kansas including Thomas County and Wallace County have taken the step to draw a line in the sand and formally pass legal statements announcing their county is not a sanctuary county and their communities will “oppose the entry, transportation, employment and settlement of illegal immigrants” in their respective counties. Two more western Kansas counties, including Wichita County and Sherman County, are currently developing their own resolutions to put into place what they consider a document that will help to protect their precarious rural communities.

According to longtime Wallace County Sheriff and now Wallace County Commissioner Larry Townsend whose county, at the very end of January, drafted, passed, and will enforce a proclamation concerning the migrant crisis, their action came in response to a number of issues they were watching.

First, they, along with commissioners in Thomas County (Colby, KS) were angry that Kansas Governor Laura Kelly would not support Texas Governor Greg Abbott at the border when 25 other conservative (Red) states took the actions necessary to support Texas and their fight to close the border from being overrun by illegal immigrants.

Next, they knew Wichita, KS had taken in a number of illegal migrants and were having many issues providing for them.

Finally, rumors started flying across the region that an OYO Hotel in Goodland, KS would soon be housing illegal immigrants. Townsend says that was a rumor that they still are not sure has any truth, but the information spread like wildfire throughout the area as the rural, sparsely populated counties in western Kansas quickly realized they absolutely did not have the services and resources to deal with such a catastrophe.

 

Townsend said, “We felt it was time to speak up. Timing is key in every battle. A few months ago, this type of stance would have gone unnoticed, but we felt once Abbott took a stand and Kansas didn’t support Texas, we realized the Goodland rumors just might be true and if they were, it was time we pushed back as we couldn’t begin to deal with anything like that. We don’t have the services.”

Townsend hopes other counties along the western Kansas and eastern Colorado border will also realize it is time to take a stand, “We’re basically the same people in the same situation. We’ve lost track of the fact that there is significant power within these small, local governments. We’ve forgotten how to govern ourselves. That’s why everything has gotten out of hand.”

Townsend also points out that the illegal immigration mess is already causing the small towns in the region several problems. “Our Sheriff in Sharon Springs has been busy dealing with human trafficking and drug trafficking during traffic stops. Cartels are moving people along these highways. We’ve also talked with other counties who are suspecting sleeper cells are present in the region.”

He emphasizes that the rural communities in western Kansas and eastern Colorado have small police forces who are already stretched thin. He wonders how they could possibly handle a large number of illegal immigrants living in one place, unable to work, unable to communicate, walking the streets, and receiving welfare for their housing and food. How would our small schools deal with such a situation? How would our medical clinics and hospitals begin to provide services to people that won’t pay and can’t communicate their issues?

Those are the very questions the City of Denver has not been able to answer as on Wednesday, February 7, Mayor Mike Johnston declared, “Denver is out of money and out of space.” He went on to say the City of Denver can no longer house the thousands of migrant families indefinitely through the winter. Even the families with small children are now on their way out of temporary housing.

Over the past year Denver has received nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants into the city, the highest number per capita in the nation, and is already facing a $180 million budget deficit providing housing, food, and social services.

In addition, Denver Health has announced they are financially collapsing under the weight of caring for some 8,000 illegal immigrants in 20,000 visits who are receiving such health services—for free—as Emergency Room care, primary care, dental care, and childbirth. Denver Health is now in the red an estimated $22 million.

Every motel in the city is full and overflowing. On February 5 the City of Denver started moving 800 families out of the free housing. They have been there for more than 2 months during the coldest part of the winter, but they are now being moved out onto the streets so others who continue to come every day will have a free place to stay for a while. It’s a revolving door that is just days away of collapsing.

Now that the City of Denver has used up all their services and—so far—have not received the requested federal funds they, as a sanctuary city, thought they would be receiving, they are now trying to move the illegal migrants out of Denver and into the suburbs and beyond.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said at a recent city council meeting, “We are working on trying to build a coalition of other cities who’d say we think everyone can do their part.”

For months now, leaders in Denver have asked other cities to step up. None have.

Ryan Trujillo, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations for the Mayor of Colorado Springs emphasized they don’t want them. “In Colorado Springs, we definitely do not want to welcome this crisis to our community. We recognize that Denver is in crisis mode though we do not have the resources to house an influx of migrant population.”

Trujillo makes it very clear the city won’t be changing its mind. “We definitely do not want to welcome this crisis to Colorado Springs,” Trujillo said at one point in the interview with 9NEWS.

According to the 9NEWS report, Denver tried to make a deal with a private hotel to house migrants in Wheat Ridge. That deal fell apart before it was finalized.

When the public learned about Denver’s plans for Lakewood and Aurora, they rose up and demanded public meetings to stop the migrants from coming. Lakewood’s mayor stated, “Any migrants needing services there will be referred back to Denver.” In Aurora, the City of Denver had to close a hotel shelter they had rented for illegal migrants once the public learned of their plans.

Even the liberal bastion of Boulder is not welcoming to the illegal migrants. Elizabeth Crowe, deputy director of the Boulder Department of Housing and Human Services told 9NEWS, “The impact so far in Boulder has been pretty minimal. Not even close to what Denver is seeing.” Boulder encourages nonprofits in the community to help migrants in Denver, but it has not offered to help house or pay for migrants arriving in Colorado.”

So, what happens now? Denver is at a breaking point. Other bigger cities in the state such as Colorado Springs, Aurora, Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, and Boulder are refusing to take them into their communities seeing what it is doing to Denver. Will these cities be forced to take their share, or will Governor Polis have to come up with another plan?

According to Townsend, it isn’t out of the realm of reality that the state or federal government might try to start sending illegal immigrants out to these wide-open spaces. There are already rumors brewing in Burlington, nothing that can be verified, that migrants will soon be sent to Burlington where they have three older motels for sale online and an empty jail facility that could be used.

Other communities might be vulnerable to a situation where the state tries to bring illegal migrants into available motels. Currently a quick Internet search found that along the rural Colorado-Kansas border the communities of Burlington, Eads, Lamar, Las Animas, La Junta, Springfield, Syracuse, and Ulysses all have empty motels listed for sale online.

Readers will wonder whether what is happening in Denver could really happen in their communities. The answer will be determined by just how desperate the sanctuary city of Denver becomes as they continue to flounder in the reality of a flood of illegal immigrants that so far is showing no signs of slowing down. If this kind of pressure continues—and there’s every indication it will—Denver will hit complete desperation soon. When that happens, will the rural communities have done the work that puts them in a position to deal with what’s coming?

Western Kansas is starting to take a stand towards protecting their communities as leaders like Townsend see the writing on the wall. As Townsend emphasized, “Timing is everything when you’re in a battle.”

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