Panel would present recommendations on developing commission
StoryA growing number of residents arriving in King County face the task of settling into a new community while trying to cope with limited English skills as they work on getting the services they need. The Metropolitan King County Council today unanimously adopted legislation for the development of a task force to make recommendations on the creation of an immigrant and refugee commission to assist some of the newest citizens of our county.
“Today, we have taken an important step in recognizing the growing population of immigrants and refugees in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. County,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the ordinance. “We realize that in order for this population to become full contributors to King County, we must first address their needs. This task force will help us towards that goal.”
“Every aspect of our community is enriched by the cultural, ethnic and racial diversity of people who have come from all over the world to call King County home,” said Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott. “This task force is an important step toward ensuring that we can best support our newest residents to thrive here.”
“Our region’s population is becoming increasingly diverse with immigrants and refugees being a big part of that picture,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “As the characteristics of our county shift, we need to ensure that county services are responsive to the changing needs in our community.”
“It is vital that all residents in King County have access to the services they need,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, co-sponsor of the ordinance. “I’ve heard countless stories of the roadblocks residents face accessing essential services. I am confident that today’s action is the first step in ensuring all residents have equal access to their government. I thank the leaders of our immigrant and refugee communities who brought this proposal forward. Today’s vote is a credit to their leadership.”
“I look forward to hearing recommendations from the task force,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “We need to determine how we can more efficiently deliver our service levels so we can serve everyone in the county.”
In the case of refugees, these are individuals and families moving to King County who are fleeing their home countries out of fear, whether it be due to war, persecution, or environmental disasters. They have a special refugee status secured while outside the country. Others are immigrants coming to King County and moving to America in the quest for a better life, perhaps to join family or perhaps knowing no one. Over the last four decades, there has been a change in those coming to the U.S., with a decrease in the number of citizens moving primarily from Europe to those born in Africa, Mexico and Southeast Asia.
According to the county demographer, one quarter of King County residents speak a language other than English at home, and close to half of them report that no one in their households speak English well or at all. Their Limited English Proficiency (LEP), cultural differences, and lack of understanding of how government works can all function as barriers to county services
The ordinance adopted by the Council establishes a task force to investigate the need for an immigrant and refugee commission to focus on these populations, to ensure they have access to county services that can assist them in becoming full citizens in their new home. The task force is charged with developing a report with recommendations on the creation of the commission, including membership, mission and scope of duties, alignment with other regional and local efforts, and relationship with the county's Office of Equity and Social Justice.
The task force, who would be appointed by the County Executive, would have a membership of no less than eight, but no more than 12 members. It would include representatives from at least two immigrant and two refugee organizations, including small, local, community-based organizations, an unincorporated area representative, a representative knowledgeable about county government operations and services, and faith-based and minority business representatives
Task force members must be leaders within the immigrant and refugee communities with expertise in immigrant or refugee issues and the ability to engage relevant communities in identifying desirable characteristics of a commission. The ordinance calls for the first meeting of the task force to convene by October 1, 2015, a progress report in February, 2016, and a final report by May 31, 2016.