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New initiatives to support immigrant communities

Today Mayor Mike McGinn announced several new efforts to support immigrant and refugee communities in Seattle, including the creation of an Immigrant Voting Rights Taskforce. The taskforce, comprised of community leaders, academics and attorneys, will be tasked with making Seattle more voter-friendly for the more than 100,000 Seattle residents who are foreign-born.Mayor I&R 02














“This taskforce will get to the heart of many equity issues in the world of civic engagement for Seattle’s immigrant population,” said McGinn. “We have to strive as a city to meet the needs of all communities in getting their voice heard.”

The taskforce will look at a number of questions, including: more equitable placement of ballot boxes, registration deadlines for individuals who have just become citizens, extra outreach around voting to individuals who have become citizens, and linguistic assistance for non-English speakers. The goal is to evaluate what jurisdiction Seattle has over these issues and strategize how to lift institutional barriers through changes in policy and legislation. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, created in 2012, will oversee the taskforce’s work and provide staff support.

“Immigrants and refugees have come to the United States for centuries to build a better future for themselves and their families” said task force member Luis Ricardo Fraga. “Today, as in the past, the vast majority in these groups work tirelessly to provide for themselves and build strong communities of faith, commitment, sacrifice, and opportunity.  Actively promoting the civic engagement and voting of immigrants and refugees will bring insights to our public discourse that can make our City better able to fashion the policies needed to best serve all communities in Seattle.  The fuller integration of immigrants and refugees in our civic life also gives them direct responsibility for working to build a city filled with unlimited opportunities and prosperity for future generations of all Seattle residents.”

The mayor also announced the creation of the Refugee Women Civic Leadership Institute Pilot Project. The project, which is budgeted at $100,000 in the mayor’s proposed budget, provides one-time funding for a pilot Civic Leadership Institute which will engage and train female refugees, helping them to make their voices heard in the civic process. The goal of the institute is to better integrate Seattle’s refugee women communities into Seattle’s civic, economic and cultural life. The institute will also include officers from the Seattle Police Department in an effort to increase cultural understanding and trust.

“The Washington Bus believes that democracy works best when the most people are at the table” said task force member and Washington Bus leader Toby Crittenden. “Immigrant communities all across Washington State are young and growing. Engaging these communities effectively today will strengthen our city and state for decades to come.”

At the event McGinn also provided an update on the Seattle Police Department’s work to support immigrant and refugee communities through the SPD:20/20 reform plan. SPD provided copies of a new “language resource card” that has been distributed to all officers to aid them in communicating with non-English speakers. The card, printed in nearly 100 languages, helps officers to identify what languages are spoken by someone they need to communicate with, expediting the process of finding either an in-person SPD translator or connecting with the phone translation service provided by SPD, the Language Line.

“It is essential to our work as police officers that we are able to easily communicate with everyone in our community” said Pugel. “These cards are helping our officers break through the language barrier and make a connection. We hope that this effort will encourage non-English speakers to seek police assistance and share information about crimes they may have witnessed.”

These efforts build on existing efforts to support immigrant and refugee communities in Seattle, including:

  • A new effort to increase the financial stability and well-being of immigrant communities through a Financial Fitness Grant awarded to the Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative in partnership with the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and the mayor’s office
  • An upcoming request for qualifications from the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs for interpretation/translation contracts for the city
  • A new requirement that consultants seeking to contract with the City on projects that include a community outreach component will be required to submit an ethnic media strategy as part of the request for proposals/qualifications process (http://www.seattle.gov/news/detail.asp?ID=13777&Dept=55)

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