Immigrant issues at forefront

Community works for better communication, education

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More than 30 people gathered in the library of Hayden High School last week to discuss the growing number of immigrants in Routt and Moffat counties. Among them were people from Mexico and South America, as well as longtime members of the nonprofit social service, law enforcement and education communities from both counties.

For more than a month, the group has been meeting in Steamboat Spring and Craig to discuss what effects a changing demographic will have on the economies and social structures of Routt and Moffat counties and what people in the community can do to face those changes.

Different ethnic groups first met separately, but Wednesday night they came together to compare their needs and decide which needs to focus on as a group.

They agreed that Latinos wanted help with understanding the laws of the United States, and both groups wanted ways to distribute information to Spanish speakers, either through television, radio or newspaper. They also decided that although there already are several Spanish translators in Routt County, several more are needed to accompany people to doctor's appointments and court proceedings.

Kevin Haynes is the office manager for Routt County Department of Human Services and works part time as an interpreter for Spanish speakers. He has attended many of the meetings in the past month to discuss the demographic change.

"The biggest reason I have been attending is because I work with so many Spanish-speaking clients," Haynes said. "I know there are a lot of needs, and I am curious to see what resources are out there."

Some of the first steps to integrate the Latino community into Steamboat began during the fall with events such as the Mexican Independence Day celebration at City Hall.

"They have a rich culture and a lot to bring to the table," Haynes said. "I would like to see us level the playing field so we can include them.

"I know some people are bothered by the fact that some of them are here illegally. But they are here, and their impact on the community can be positive."

Those who work with Latino clients know that the demographics are changing but do not know how to measure the change. Many of the new residents are undocumented, and even those who are documented do not always show up on the census.

"I started working (at DHS) in 2001," Haynes said. "Late that year, we were able to get a grant that resulted in a position for a person to work just with that population.

"We were able to prove the need for that position just through raw census data."

Cody Reed, who has been organizing the demographic change meetings with Summer Laws, is filling that position at Routt County Department of Human Services.

She has watched her idea to open a community dialogue turn from an e-mail announcing the first meeting to a collaborative process involving several community members.

Now that the needs have been narrowed to a few points of concentration, Reed expects people to take ownership of those needs and form an action plan, she said.

"I don't know if this is the best process, but no one has done this before," Haynes said. "No one has taken us this far yet."

The group will meet at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at Hayden High School. Anyone planning to attend should call Cody Reed at 879-2141 ext. 27.

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