Keeping dreams alive for immigrant families in Summit County
Mountain Dreamers is dedicated to helping young immigrant residents in Summit County achieve the right to live and work legally, without fear of deportation
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Immigrant families in Summit County not only help our economy tick, they’re also important members of our vibrant communities.
But many of these vital residents of Summit County can’t have complete confidence in their future ability to live and work here due to the uncertainty surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that temporarily allows immigrant residents who were brought to the United States as children — known as Dreamers (see factbox) — to work and study legally and and live free from the fear of deportation.
When it was announced in 2017 that the DACA program would end (the program has since been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court), a group of Summit County immigrants, DACA recipients and supporters banded together to form Mountain Dreamers, an organization that supports the immigrant community and advocates for their rights.
It started as an informal group focused on telling the stories of Summit County’s immigrant families, but in 2019 officially became a 501c3 charitable and educational nonprofit.
“We were formed with the people from the community who we’re serving — DACA recipients, Dreamers and their families,” said Executive Director Peter Bakken. “And we deliberately formed a board of directors that consists mostly of people from those communities — young, working immigrants. We’re really proud of that.”
Supporting local “Dreamers”
Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, many of whom arrived at a very young age and have thus called America home for most of their lives. The term “Dreamers” refers to the DREAM Act, legislation with strong bipartisan support that would allow these U.S. residents to continue living and working here legally; more importantly it would accomplish what DACA does not – create a pathway to citizenship. Various forms of the DREAM Act have been introduced in Congress over the last 20 years. Mountain Dreamers is hopeful that the DREAM Act will finally pass and eliminate the uncertainty faced by Dreamers and their families, their friends, their employers and their communities.
Brayan Daniel, the pre-collegiate coordinator at Summit Middle School and a Mountain Dreamers board member, knows first-hand the challenges these immigrant children and their families face. He migrated to the United States at the age of 3, and moved to Summit County at the age of 9.
“I went to middle and high school here and started to notice differences between me and my friends, such as not being able to get a driver’s license or federal aid for college,” he said. “DACA gave me the opportunity to further my education, get a job and make a life for myself here in the U.S.”
Mountain Dreamers President Carol Saade, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, said the status of DACA has changed so many times in recent years – it’s one of the organization’s main missions to educate and advocate for the program’s recipients.
“Everyone on our board is passionate about this issue. Many of our members are either DACA recipients or immigrants — their voices and input have helped Mountain Dreamers accomplish so much,” she said.
Scholarships, advocacy and other programs
Mountain Dreamers supports local DACA recipients with a DACA scholarship fund that helps them pay the fees associated with renewing their DACA work authorizations. While DACA is no longer accepting new applications — and the future of the entire program remains in doubt — existing recipients must renew their status annually.
“It costs about $1,000 to renew each time, between legal fees and fees to the government,” Bakken said. “Thanks to generous donations from the community, including the Summit Foundation, Mountain Dreamers has so far helped 40 young local Dreamers with about $29,000 to renew their DACA.”
This has included students from Summit High School, some of whom started the Summit High Mountain Dreamers Club in order to educate their fellow students and school staff on DACA and Dreamers and the unique challenges they face, and to uplift the voices of students of color, who make up around 37% of all students in the district’s schools.
Like other nonprofits, Mountain Dreamers has pivoted in order to respond to our community’s urgent needs during the COVID crisis. Thanks to the Colorado Trust’s COVID-19 Response and the Summit Interfaith Council, they were able to directly assist 22 of Summit’s most vulnerable families, who were unable to receive federal stimulus checks or other forms of assistance, with $1000 emergency cash grants. They are also coordinating the Summit Equity Taskforce, which during the COVID crisis has been focused on addressing the disproportionate effect the Coronavirus and COVID are having on the immigrant and Hispanic communities by creating two-way communication between those communities and Summit County Public Health, so that vital information gets to everyone.
Mountain Dreamers began with a mission to educate, empower, and build empathy through story-telling. Whether at community events including documentary film screenings, with video stories or in their Sueños Unidos/Dreamers United blog, this focus continues today. In August, Mountain Dreamers joined with the Town of Silverthorne’s First Friday on the outdoor stage of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, where they hosted prominent locals reading the personal stories of 4 local Dreamers, as told in the Dreamers’ own words, in English and Spanish.
The event showcased what Mountain Dreamers is all about – powerfully bringing the Summit community together in a positive spirit of shared understanding, in order to overcome the challenges facing Summit’s Dreamers.
Follow Mountain Dreamers on Facebook for upcoming event details.
For more information about Mountain Dreamers or to support the organization, visit http://www.mountaindreamers.org.
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