After a Denver official was recorded telling newly arrived migrants they would “suffer” if they stayed there and encouraging them to consider New York City or Chicago instead, the city on Wednesday defended the comments and said promoting “onward travel” is part of its strategy for addressing the influx of new residents.

Mayor Mike Johnston’s political director told a group of migrant families in Denver’s main shelter last week that the city has “received too many migrants and that is why we ran out of resources.” Denver is currently sheltering about 700 people, according to city data, part of a growing number of people being bused from Texas border towns to so-called sanctuary cities like Denver.

“If you stay here you are going to suffer even more and I don’t want to see this,” Andres Carrera, who is also Denver’s newcomer communications liaison, said in Spanish in a video obtained by NBC News affiliate 9NEWS. As he spoke, people appeared to listen intently while children sat on the floor near his feet. 

Migrants hand out donated clothes to other migrants in Denver on Feb. 5.Helen H. Richardson / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images file

The press secretary for the mayor’s office told NBC News on Wednesday that the city began “heavily encouraging” the newly arrived to leave Denver in February as its ability to offer them assistance diminished. Denver also began limiting the number of days migrants can stay in shelter that month. 

The number of people in shelters has fallen precipitously from the Jan. 10 high of 5,210 people.

“Given the number of people who have arrived in Denver, there are very few opportunities for work and housing, and those opportunities only continue to shrink,” Jordan Fuja, the press secretary, said in a statement. 

Fuja said Denver has received nearly 500 buses as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign to send migrants to Democratic cities, including New York City and Chicago. Overall, the city has received more than 40,000 newcomers — about 5.6% of its population — in the last two years. About 20,000 people have moved on from the city, he said.

Migrants try to make money by cleaning windshields of drivers at stoplights.
Migrants try to make money by cleaning windshields of drivers at stoplights in Denver on Jan. 30.Helen H. Richardson / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images file

“Encouraging onward travel to destinations where newcomers may have support networks or better opportunities will continue to be a critical part of our long-term strategy to ensure the greatest opportunity for success for both newcomers and the City of Denver,” he said.

In the video clip, Carrera also told the group that the opportunities in Denver “are over.” 

“New York gives you more. Chicago gives you more. So I suggest you go there,” he said, adding that both of those cities offer more shelter time for migrants than Denver. “There are also more job opportunities there.” 

Both cities are also contending with an influx of migrants. In Chicago, as of Wednesday, there are 9,899 migrants in 21 active shelters run by the city and state, according to city data. The city said it has received 38,468 migrants since 2022.

In New York City, there were 64,404 migrants and asylum-seekers in need of shelter as of Feb. 29, including more than 50,000 that were families with children according to a city report. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said last month that the city has received some 180,000 migrants since 2022.

While there are more migrants in those cities, Denver has welcomed more people per capita, Fuja said.

Like Denver, New York and Chicago have struggled to provide enough resources and housing to keep up with the influx and have instituted measures to conserve their budgets, including shelter evictions.

Chicago and New York City did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Denver official encouraging migrants to go to those cities instead.

Fuja said that Denver regularly communicates with both cities and that they were referenced in Carrera’s comments “only because newcomers had specifically asked about those cities earlier in the conversation with our team member.” He said they don’t usually suggest specific cities.

“Rather, we work closely with newcomers to determine cities where they may have existing networks or better opportunities for work and housing,” he said.

Fuja said that the video clip “showed such a small part of the work our team member did that evening, and just a fraction of the tireless amount of work he and the rest of the city’s team has put in to help newcomers who arrive in Denver.”

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