A pro-immigrant sign at the 2018 Women’s March in Seattle. Photo by David Lee/Flickr

A pro-immigrant sign at the 2018 Women’s March in Seattle. Photo by David Lee/Flickr

Can immigration issues be fixed at the county level?

King County establishes new commission to support immigrant and refugee communities.

Immigration in the United States has long been an unsettled matter. But as the rhetoric from the Trump administration has turned sharply against most of the country’s immigrant population and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has ramped up its presence in communities throughout the country, the terrain is as uncertain as ever for much of the foreign-born population. In response, many local governments at odds with the current federal posture are overseeing efforts to provide support and protection to their immigrant residents.

“Government has a flawed reputation at this current moment, and local governments pushing forward initiatives to reaffirm trust is critical,” said Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network coordinator Monserrat Padilla. “There is so much uncertainty at the national level that it’s important our local governments are taking matters into their own hands to really set clarity and intention so that everyone is welcome and safe here in their homes.”

To that end, the King County Council (KCC) recently established an Immigrant and Refugee Commission, which consolidates efforts to addresses the unique challenges faced by those communities and reaffirm the county’s commitment to strengthening their stability. As a permanent body in county government, the commission will act as a central point of contact, communication, and coordination for all immigrant and refugee residents (and the organizations that work with them). The commission replaces a task force that was established in 2015.

Between 2000 to 2010, foreign-born residents made up more than half of King County’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This number continues to grow, illustrating a need to shift the approach when handling these communites’ challenges.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Rich Stolz, the executive director of OneAmerica, an organization that works in immigrant communities to promote democracy and justice. “A lot of work went into establishing this commission and creating a mechanism in King County government to better support immigrants and refugees, because there are a number of issues that impact the community that aren’t given adequate attention.”

Over the next few months, the commission will go through the process of hiring commissioners. The commission intends to reflect King County’s diverse population with members from a variety of ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and geographic regions.

Stolz stated that there are core factors that set immigrants apart from refugees, and these differences impact how different systems in King County best support and meet the needs of residents who are dealing with status and language barriers.

The ordinance establishing the commission calls for a variety of practical measures, including advising on county programs, promoting civic participation, encouraging employment, increased representation of immigrants and refugees on boards, and further expanding English-language learning and interpretive programs.

“Interpretive services are a priority, we really need to do a better job supporting language access to everyone will have a better understanding of services that aid housing, employment, and education,” said King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the Immigrant and Refugee Commission ordinance.

Stolz also believes the commission will centralize work being done in different agencies that aren’t being applied broadly. This includes measures like making elections more accessible by providing ballots in multiple languages and adding more geographically-diverse ballot drop box locations.

In addition to language access programs and civic participation, Gossett believes that protecting local citizens from ICE interference needs to be at the forefront of the commission’s work. A recently passed King County ordinance bars the use of employees’ time and resources from being used for facilitating immigration detention and deportation. The ordinance was hailed by the ACLU of Washington as integral to safeguarding the rights of local immigrants.

“First and foremost, [we must ensure] that all government officials know that local collaboration with ICE is prohibited by a local ordinance needs to be a priority,” Padilla said. “Training our communities, making sure they know their rights, and making sure we work lawfully first and foremost should be at the forefront of our vision, as well as keeping ICE from roaming our communities.”

Establishing the commission also has a symbolic impact, reaffirming King County’s commitment to protecting and promoting the advancement of these populations.

“A city like Issaquah might not have the capacity to establish its own commission, but the fact that this commission exists creates the opportunities for smaller communities to learn from and draw from best practices identified by the larger institution,” said Stolz.

“The ordinance that we passed is one of it not the most progressive providing human protections for immigrants and refugees,” Gossett said. “It’ll probably end up being a model for other governments.”

mquinton@seattleweekly.com

More in News

A proposal by Senate Democrats would require concealed pistol license applicants in Washington state to complete a safety course. File photo
Democrats seek firearm training requirement for concealed carriers

Republican senator calls proposal ‘unconstitutional.’

Snohomish County man is first U.S. case of new coronavirus

A man in his 30s was hospitalized in Everett after contracting the virus during a trip to China.

Blake Peterson/staff photo
                                City manager Jennifer Phillips was one of the speakers at the Jan. 16 information session.
What’s next for the former Wayne Golf Course in Bothell?

The city of Bothell recently acquired the property from its previous owners.

Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters gun rights group, addresses a crowd rallying for Second Amendment rights Jan. 17 at the state Capitol in Olympia. Marshall condemned Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, which expelled Rep. Matt Shea from the Republican Caucus. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat held by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gun rights advocates rally at Capitol

Criticism levied at Matt Shea investigation, Republican leadership.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of SB 5323, speaking on the bill. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Sabio-Howell)
Proposed law adds a fee to plastic bags at checkout

Senate passes bill to ban single-use plastic bags, place 8-cent fee on reusable plastic bags.

From left to right: Corina Pfeil, Melanie O’Cain, Rod Dembowski, Milton Curtis and David Baker. Photo courtesy city of Kenmore
Baker, Herbig continue as Kenmore mayor, deputy mayor

They were appointed at the Jan. 13 council meeting, during which councilmembers were also sworn in.

Development has encroached on the East Lake Sammamish Trail (at right). Joe Livarchik/file photo
King County files lawsuit to finish East Lake Sammamish Trail

Homeowners have until September to remove buildings and other property from the right of way.

Bellevue residents Marko and Karla Ilicic play a hockey game in the Topgolf Swing Suite inside Forum Social House. Natalie DeFord/staff photo
Forum Social House opens in Bellevue

Eastside gets new nightclub, mini golf, swing suites.

Most Read