It was announced as an “emergency town hall meeting” to discuss the thousands of Venezuelan migrants transported to Denver from Texas. With facilities at capacity, Denver was considering moving some families to the Motel 8 on Kipling right here in Wheat Ridge.
The application for the room rental at the Wheat Ridge Rec Center was in fact submitted by local resident Liz Veeder, it explicitly mentioned that this was not a city sponsored event. However, between the graphics and the messaging, the ripple effect through the many Wheat Ridge pages on Facebook would be felt for days. Others thought to be involved in organizing the meeting were Nancy Pallozzi who ran (Republican) for election to the Colorado State Board of Education and Natalie Menten (Republican) who also spoke about legislation issues.
The meeting itself lasted two hours and was as you’d expect. A room full of people searching for answers. I was sitting in the middle of the almost 200 person crowd. It was clear that the majority of the attendees weren’t from Wheat Ridge. Most were from Arvada, Westminster, Lakewood and even Evergreen. The meeting was moderated by Wheat Ridge’s Brian DeLaet.
He opened the meeting stating that “this was not an official town meeting” but kept reminding the audience that Denver hadn’t made the decision to move the migrants into Wheat Ridge “for the time being.”
John Marriott (Owner of a local business on Kipling and i-70) shared his concerns about the city’s lack of resources in addressing the migrants being housed at Motel 8, located right across the street from his business. He warned of the “profound effect in a negative way on businesses in the half-mile radius”.
The tone of the meeting turned to fear when other attendees walked up to the podium and spoke against the City, claiming that staff was negotiating with Denver in secrecy. Some speakers asked that the City have more public meetings where questions and answers could be shared, as opposed to council meetings with only one-way dialogue.
Some attendees shared their concerns about the lack of screening on the migrants at the border and possible security breaches. One gentleman claimed that “all the migrants were criminals.” That really stoked the fire in the room.
One man spoke with an hispanic accent warning the crowd “You have to be careful with these people, they don’t understand the laws of the United States.” Alan from Westminster claimed that the “immigrants were taking our hospital beds.”
Local resident Greg Veeder introduced himself as a “licensed clinical social worker with 30 years experience in working with a dangerous population that included repeat adult sex offenders” and offered his services to help with the situation.
Well you can imagine how the mood in the room kept getting darker. Calls for “shutting the borders” could be heard. Many tried to justify being against immigration and immigrants. I was almost expecting someone to point at me and announce that this “guy” was not from here!
There was a moment toward the end of the meeting when DeLaet asked if anyone supporting the migrants wanted to get up and speak. That was met with laughter as it was obvious how that would be received. He then concluded the meeting by urging everyone to join local commissions and committees and promised to follow up with all that had signed in that night.
In the absence of truth, people will always accept anything else to comfort them and fill that void. While two council members were present, they did not speak. The City did not send in any staff to remind the audience of the many laws and ordinances already in place to address many of the concerns, and so the attendees went home even more unsettled, scared and angry.
Two weeks after the meeting, the City invited Adam Paul, director of Regional Affairs for the City of Denver to speak. He reassured the audience that in fact Denver is no longer considering moving the migrants to Wheat Ridge, “for the time being.” The city and various organizations are also engaged in developing work permits and other resources for these families.