Summit County’s migrant population is up, nonprofit leaders say

Organizations reporting influx of individuals and families from Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and Venezuela

Brianne Snow helps carry a food delivery to the Family & Intercultural Resource Center in Silverthorne on Nov. 12, 2020. Snow’s organization offers a slew of support for housing and health care assistance, child care and mental health services. But the two biggest needs from newcomers have been food and clothing, Snow said.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

Nonprofit leaders in Summit County said they’ve seen an increase in migrants asking for services this year. 

Javier Pineda, a program coordinator for the immigrant advocacy group Mountain Dreamers, said his organization started using intake forms this spring after seeing a “very significant influx” of migrants coming to their door. 

Located in the town of Frisco, the nonprofit works with documented and undocumented immigrants who need help navigating systems such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals renewals, driving tests and legal aid. 

Since it began using intake forms near the end of May, the organization has serviced at least 400 migrants, according to Pineda. Many are coming from Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and Venezuela in search of work and a place to raise a family, Pineda said. 

But unlike what Mountain Dreamers has seen in the past, many recent migrants are arriving in the county without knowing anyone. 

“Prior immigration trends or waves in the county have indicated there’s usually a family member or friend in the county,” Pineda said. “But a big chunk of these new arrivals do not have those strong connections.”

Pineda said he’s concerned with migrants’ ability to find housing in the county and said he knows of many families having to live doubled-up in living rooms or single bedrooms. 

Carlos Lopez, also a program coordinator for Mountain Dreamers, said that has the potential to lead to “very dangerous living situations” and said the county is in dire need of affordable housing that can accommodate small and large families. 

Under Colorado’s Immigrant Tenant Protection Act — passed by state lawmakers in 2020 — it is illegal for landlords to ask for citizenship or immigration information from tenants. This has been a crucial win for undocumented migrants who lack a Social Security number, Lopez said. But high rent prices and a lack of supply still create major barriers for individuals and families, he added.

According to Brianne Snow, executive director for the nonprofit Family & Intercultural Resource Center, migrants come to the county for its work opportunities — especially for service and labor jobs. 

“Those jobs where you may not have to speak the language fluently in order to get the work done,” Snow said. “We see a lot of people in the restaurant industry and construction.” 

Snow’s organization offers a slew of support for housing and health care assistance, child care and mental health services. But the two biggest needs from newcomers have been food and clothing, Snow said. 

Since Oct. 1, Snow said 12% of those her organization has seen say they have lived in the county for less than a year and about 30% of those coming for food are doing so for the first time — about 800 people. 

While Snow said her organization does not keep data on immigration or citizenship status of her clients, she said many newer residents and first-time people coming for help are migrants.

“Certainly in the last year we have seen an influx in migrants,” Snow said. “When they get here many don’t understand what they’re able to access and so food tends to rise to the top and becomes a top priority.”

Snow said her organization has seen a “steady influx in migrants in the past year,” mostly from Nicaragua and Colombia.

“It’s a huge culture shock,” Snow said, “and there’s huge implications.”

Migrants come fleeing traumatic and often violent situations in their home countries, Snow said, meaning beyond just basic needs — like food, clothes and shelter — many also face mental health struggles. 

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said migrants have been an integral aspect of the county’s identity and asked residents to show “compassion” for any newcomers. 

“I do think that our immigrant community is a very important part of making Summit County successful economically, but also culturally,” Pogue said. 

Pogue said the county has taken steps to support diverse populations such as through providing some funding for organizations like the resource center. According to county spokesperson Dave Rossi, commissioners have approved nearly $2 million for nonprofits in the county since 2020.

Other measures include making county-sponsored workforce housing eligible to residents regardless of their documentation status — a move allowed under the state law that passed in 2020.

But those solutions remain imperfect, Pogue said.

“If you don’t have legal status it’s very difficult to get a mortgage,” Pogue said, adding that for most migrants their only option is renting. “And we’re in very short supply of rental options.”

Pogue also said she wishes the county could allow migrants to hold county seats, such as on a planning commission, regardless of their status. But state law currently prohibits that. Beyond just local and state policy, Pogue said nationwide reform is needed. 

“It’s disappointing to me that the federal government can’t seem to pass meaningful changes or policy to help folks,” Pogue said. “It’s tragic to me the politicization of people, regardless of how someone arrives in this country.”

For Pineda at Mountain Dreamers, he believes the increase in migrants “will definitely continue for some time.” His colleague Lopez said it will be crucial for nonprofits like theirs to work with local governments as they advocate for migrant and immigrant rights. 

“Immigrants still have rights under the law,” Lopez said, “and reminding everybody that we’re still human. Immigrants are still human beings.”

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