Gov. Spencer Cox said he recently learned the Democratic mayor of Denver in the neighboring state of Colorado has sent thousands of migrants to Utah without properly notifying state authorities. The governor acknowledged the situation on Friday in a social media post following a KUTV News report on Thursday.

“We recently learned that the Democrat mayor of Denver has been sending illegal immigrants to Utah without proper notification or approval,” Cox said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This is completely unacceptable and follows on the failed catch-and-release policy of the Biden administration.”

His statement continued: “Every state has received illegal immigrants and Utah’s resources are completely depleted. All 50 states, including Utah, are now border states due to the failed immigration policies of President Biden and Congress. Once again we call on the Biden administration and Congress to solve this crisis.”

Denver City-County Department of Human Services confirmed with KUTV that the city had paid for the travel of roughly 2,000 migrants to Salt Lake City over the past two years. Migrants are flown or bused to locations based on their own request — they are not forced or encouraged to come to Salt Lake City, a Denver city official told the news station.

In the last few months, Cox visited the border and sent National Guardsmen to Texas to support the state’s Republican governor. He has also called on President Joe Biden to enforce stricter border policies and to provide more information on migrants entering the country.

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Cox’s Republican primary challenger, state Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, said the news is evidence Cox is mishandling immigration in the state.

“Of course illegal aliens are being sent to Utah from other states. The word is out that Governor Spencer Cox has Utah operating as a sanctuary state. He has made Utah a magnet for illegal immigration,” Lyman posted. “As your governor Utah will not operate as a ‘sanctuary’ for illegal aliens.”

As Deseret News previously reported, Utah is not officially a sanctuary state. Utah code explicitly requires state law enforcement to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers when apprehending migrants who break the law after entering the country illegally.

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But the absence of ICE detention centers in the state, and Utah’s immigrant-friendly policies — like driving privilege cards, child medical insurance, in-state college tuition and occupational licensing of migrants who do not have permanent legal status — have been used to justify the “sanctuary state” designation by the Center for Immigration Studies and political candidates like Lyman.

ICE’s Salt Lake City Field Office issued a quickly retracted memo last year calling Utah a sanctuary state, saying state policies have led to the release of migrants by ICE. Utah officials, including law enforcement leadership, pushed back on ICE’s claims, saying the Biden administration is to blame for making migrant detention in local jails nearly impossible and causing an influx of migrants into the country.

Upon entering office, Biden issued dozens of executive orders to eliminate policies from former President Donald Trump, including his “Remain in Mexico” order that forced migrants seeking asylum to wait out their immigration proceedings on the other side of the border.

Migrants who claim asylum at the border may now enter the country until a court date several years from now. This process is widely referred to as “catch and release.”

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