As the immigrant and refugee population in King County increases, questions have been raised about how to best serve them.
To help staff and officials figure out the answer, King County formed an Immigrant and Refugee Task Force to look into a possible commission for immigrants and refugees and whether it was needed.
The task force was made up of 13 people from throughout the county. Some were community residents, others represented local city governments and others still were from organizations that work with immigrant and refugee populations. In addition, the task force members came from various immigrant and refugee backgrounds.
Representing Redmond and the greater Eastside was Alaric Bien from the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition (ERIC).
The task force worked together from October 2015 to June of this year and following those nine months, the group came up with a number of recommendations for the county.
One of the recommendations presented to the county that Bien said they felt strongly about was the commission that sparked the task force’s creation. He said they felt a commission was actually a minimum requirement to fully serve the county’s immigrant and refugee populations.
Bien said ideally, the county would create an office with a full-time, dedicated staff that would be able to do the full scope of work needed to serve immigrants and refugees. But after speaking with the county’s budget director, he said they acknowledged that that would be too expensive.
The task force came up with three possible levels of service with the dedicated office being the top level. Bien said the next level down would be creating a full-time position within another office and the third level would be the commission, with a part-time staff employee.
According to a county press release, additional recommendations included a greater investment in immigrant and refugee communities (specifically greater civil engagement and assistance beyond basic needs), increased government responsiveness for better, more meaningful connections to county government and addressing issues related to immigration status.
To come up with these recommendations, Bien said the task force spent six weeks doing outreach work throughout the county. They partnered with local governments as well as community-based organizations and service providers to meet with immigrants and refugees and learn about their needs. Bien said this outreach ranged from town hall-style meetings to attending existing meetings at community organizations.
Two of those meetings happened on the Eastside.
Bien said one of the common themes that came from this outreach work was the need for better representation in local government as these two populations do not see themselves in government.
In addition, he said, people would like better access to services — both in terms of knowing what is available to them as well as having services that are culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible. People also expressed their concerns about affordable housing and homelessness throughout the county.
For populations on the Eastside specifically, Bien said while they do have low-income residents, there aren’t as many people who are struggling financially. He said the immigrants and refugees on the Eastside want to get involved and contribute to their communities but don’t always know how to do so.
Among Eastside teens, one of the concerns that Bien said was brought up was their stress and anxiety concerning the uncertainty of their futures. He said even if their families are in the country legally, there is the process of having to renew visas and having those approved, which makes planning for college difficult.
A SERVICE SUCCESS STORY
Another topic that was brought up on the Eastside was small business needs and the additional barriers people face when they are new to the country.
“Even if you speak English (opening your own business is) confusing,” Bien said of the process as a whole.
Juana Campos, an immigrant from Mexico, was able to receive the kind of help she needed to open up her own cleaning service, Juana’s House Cleaning.
The Redmond resident of about three and a half years was able to connect with the Cultural Navigator Program at the Together Center in Redmond and they helped her enroll in classes for people who wanted to start their own businesses.
In addition, Campos — through her translator at the navigator program, Diana Moshe — said they helped her find affordable housing for her and her two kids, who were 7 and 4 years old when they first came to the United States. With Moshe translating, she said she had been coming from a difficult situation with her ex-husband in Mexico when they arrived. The navigator program also helped Campos apply for insurance and find child care.
“I think I would be living on the street with my two kids,” she said through Moshe about where she thinks she would be without the navigator.
The navigator program partners with the Chinese Information Service Center, which is also a partner with Bien’s organization, ERIC.
A COMMUNITY REACHING ITS FULL POTENTIAL
Bien said it is important to have such services available to people so they can reach their full potential. In turn, this makes for stronger thriving communities.
This is the idea behind National Welcoming Week, which starts today and runs through Sept. 25.
On the Eastside, ERIC is holding a number of events, including a kick off event this afternoon from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, 16600 N.E. 80th St. in downtown.
Bien said the goal of the week is to create welcoming communities and have people feel and be welcomed in their communities.
For a full calendar of Welcoming Week events on the Eastside, visit tinyurl.com/jl2b5d4.