Developing central point of contact for growing communities
StoryIn 2016, the Metropolitan King County Council accepted the recommendations of King County’s Immigrant and Refugee Task Force that evaluated the challenges facing King County’s growing immigrant and refugee community. Today the Council voted toward acting on those recommendations with its unanimous approval to establish a King County Immigrant and Refugee Commission.
“The new residents of King County are working hard to become part of the greater community and this commission will be their voice,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the ordinance. “For people newly arrived not only in the county, but possibly in the country, there are numerous challenges. The commission provides them a ‘seat at the table’ which can be invaluable in being comfortable in their new homes.”
“We, as a County, are responding to the increased barriers immigrants and refugees may face by updating our policies, programs and procedures with a fair and just lens,” said Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski. “Following the recommendation of the Immigrant and Refugee Task Force by creating a commission ensures that we keep these residents in the forefront of our work, especially at a time when many of them feel threatened by decisions and actions made at the federal level.”
The goal of the commission will be to act as a central point of contact, communication, and coordination for all immigrant and refugee residents, and those serving and engaging with them. It will also focus on understanding and addressing challenges faced by immigrant and refugee communities living in suburban cities and unincorporated areas of the county.
“I am proud to serve a community that engages and empowers its newest Americans rather than ostracizing them,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles.
“Our country and our region have prospered because of the contributions of immigrants and refugees from all over the world,” said Councilmember Claudia Balducci. “The creation of this commission will improve our ability to learn from these vital members of our community and to make sure we are providing the services and support they need and deserve.”
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. The Council established the Immigrant and Refugee Task Force in 2015 and asked for recommendations that would assist the County in ensuring that these communities, in both urban and suburban/unincorporated areas, have the opportunity to successfully integrate and become “engaged, thriving members of the community.”
The adopted legislation calls for the creation of a commission that will:
• Assist and advise the county and other levels of government on issues, programs, plans, funding and policies impacting immigrant and refugee communities,
• Promote civic participation and government representation by encouraging application for employment within the county workforce by immigrant and refugee residents and representation of immigrant and refugee residents on boards and commissions,
• Collaborate with organizations that implement programs to enhance integration, naturalization and English-language learning,
• Increase public awareness of immigrants and refugees and their contributions to our community.
The commission will have thirteen voting members and four nonvoting members for three-year terms, with the exception of the inaugural term members whose terms would be staggered into three, two, and one year terms to ensure continuity of experienced members in the commission. Those interested in applying to become a commissioner should contact either their local community organizations or their member of the County Council.