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Landmark report presents recommendations on giving immigrants and refugees greater voice


Report result of 10 months of exploration, more than 20 community meetings


 Representatives of the Council's Immigrant and Refugee Task Force join
Councilmembers after presenting their recommendations to the Council

The King County Immigrant and Refugee Task Force recommends the best way to ensure the successful integration of these communities into the County is the creation of a commission that will become their voice in King County government.

“Many of the newest people in our county arrive here without the knowledge of the resources available to them, services that many of us take for granted,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett. “If we want these families to be full participants in Martin Luther King County, we need to ensure they have the information they need. The task force recommendations are a strong first step in making this a reality.”

Created by the Metropolitan King County Council, the task force presented their recommendations to Councilmembers. The recommendations are part of a report compiled by the 13-member panel that examines what steps the County should take to ensure that these communities have the opportunity to successfully integrate and become “engaged, thriving members of the community.”

“Our country was founded on the principles of democracy, fairness and justice, and these values must continue to guide us, now more than ever. As a result of conversations with community members who saw a need for the county to play a greater role in responding to our area’s rapidly changing demographics, Councilmember Gossett and I brought forward the motion that established the task force that put forth these recommendations,” said Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski. “I thank the task force members for their expertise, time and guidance and for their commitment to ensuring all members of our community have equal access to opportunities to achieve the American Dream.”

From 2000-2010, more than half of King County’s new population was foreign-born, a number that continues to grow, with the majority of the population being located in communities outside of Seattle.

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.

 Members of the Immigrant and Refugee Task Force
speak to the Council
(l-r) Alaric Bien, Sameth Mell,Dinah Wilson
and Task Force Consultant
Bookda Gheisar
The recommendations of the Task Force are the result of 10 months of exploration and the input received after more than 20 meetings held in communities throughout King County over a six-week period. Task Force members focused on how King County could achieve the goals that are part of the County’s equity and social justice vision, including assisting these communities in having fair and just access to services and opportunities. The community meetings targeted specific areas that prevent immigrants and refugees from full participation. Those include:

• Discrimination
• Language and culture issues
• Difficulty understanding and navigating systems
• Insufficient resources, and invisibility of communities

“As the former Executive Director of the Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC), an immigrant serving organization, I have seen firsthand the challenges faced by newcomers in the Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Latino, and Russian communities,” said Task Force member Alaric Bien, who works with the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition. “These range from basic survival issues such as affordable housing and employment, to difficulty accessing education and training opportunities, to help in starting new businesses that will create jobs and contribute to our economy. It is critical that our patchwork of services and community based efforts be coordinated and expanded in order to help our newest friends and neighbors not only survive, but thrive throughout King County.”

The members of the task force stressed while there are community groups that have been created to help these populations, those groups are limited because these is no umbrella organization to coordinate or streamline their efforts. They see a county-based commission as the best opportunity for that to occur.

The Task Force called for a commission that would “act as a hub to align work of organizations serving and engaging refugee and immigrant populations and investing in the capacity of these organizations.” The report states that the commission would have specific duties to work with “the County, immigrant and refugee communities, key stakeholders, and the public.”

“We live in a world where a number of individuals view immigrants and refugees as the other, but I see how we treat them as indicators of the social and psychological health of our community,” said Task Force member Dinah Wilson, who works for the City of Kent. “Vibrant and successful counties and cities prioritize integrating immigrants and refugees into our community so that they have access to the same opportunities as those who claim ancestry to those who sailed here on the Mayflower. We budget for what we prioritize.”

Additional recommendations from the Task Force include:

• Greater investment in immigrant and refugee communities: Greater civil engagement, assistance beyond basic needs (more support for life skills training, ESL, education on other cultures and home ownership),

• Increased government responsiveness: Better, more meaningful connections to county government, greater involvement and participation of county officials and agencies within their communities, development of training programs for county employees focusing on immigrant and refugee issues, communities, and cultures,

• Addressing issues related to immigration status: Working on solutions for undocumented populations that would allow them greater access to services—one example given by the Task Force being a municipal ID that would help with access to services regardless of immigration status. Reviewing programs that tie eligibility to immigration status (health insurance was specifically noted) to weigh costs of exclusion and possible workarounds, and providing better pathways for undocumented residents to become citizens.

“It's important to connect deeply with hyper marginal communities that are under-served so that the county can reconstruct the mechanics of opportunity and inclusion to better serve its growing residents,” said Sameth Mell a member of the Task Force who serves with the Coalition of Immigrants. Refugees and Communities of Color. “The task force has supported this effort through listening sessions and drafting recommendations that will help to steer the direction of the county's equitable outcomes.”

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