As we prepare ourselves for another year of fulfilling our mission of “improving the lives of Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities,” we also wanted to reflect on some of the most memorable moments of last year. Some of you were with us when these events happened. And we look forward to being with you and even celebrating more significant moments with you, as 2020 moves forward.
Thanks to the many community members, leaders, and advocates who have continued to show up for immigrant justice and to volunteer your time to make sure Seattle continues to be a welcoming city for our most vulnerable immigrant and refugee neighbors and friends.
The events listed below are in chronological order.
- The Seattle/King County Immigrant and Refugee Legal Defense Fund expands to serve more vulnerable immigrants.
In 2017, Council members Lorena González and Tim Burgess championed a $1 million legal defense fund to help Seattle immigrants fight deportation. Later, King County would contribute additional funds to serve immigrants outside Seattle city limits, and thus was formed the Seattle-King County Immigrant Legal Defense Network (LDN). Last year was another milestone, as the City of Seattle and King County announced the new Expanded Seattle-King County Immigrant Legal Defense Network (ELDN). The ELDN grants $5.6 million to community-based organizations working to provide legal services to immigrants and refugees at risk of deportation.
- Other police departments want to replicate our success in bringing immigrants and police officers together.
The award-winning and nationally recognized Immigrant Family Institute (IFI) is an 8-week program that brings together immigrant youth, their parents/guardians, and Seattle police officers to dialogue and learn from each other. The program is so transformational for both immigrants and police officers, that other immigrant-dense cities want to replicate its success. In May, OIRA and SPD met with City of Hopkins (Minnesota) Police Department representatives who traveled to Seattle to discuss how they can implement their own version of IFI.
- International medical graduates receive a boost from new state legislation.
OIRA has long recognized that immigrants and refugees face unique problems upon moving to this country. One particularly challenging and little recognized issue focuses on immigrant and refugee trained professionals who are prohibited from contributing their talents and smarts to the same profession in their new home. We worked with community advocates to support Senate Bill 5864 and then later celebrated with them once the bill was signed into law. The new law creates a work group that will develop recommendations for a program to aid international medical graduates in overcoming barriers to professional careers in Washington state.
- The “citizenship question” will not be on the Census 2020 questionnaire!
The City of Seattle rejoiced when news hit that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration and rejected their stated reason for adding a question about citizenship to the Census 2020 questionnaire forms. Advocates and even U.S. Census Bureau experts warned against including such a question on the forms. They predicting that asking the question would cause millions of immigrants to refuse to participate in the census, leading to a significant undercount. Later, media outlets discovered that inclusion of the question was part of a plot to purposefully deter immigrants from being counted.
- OIRA unveils newly updated language access and ethnic media tools for City departments.
OIRA works internally to ensure all City of Seattle departments are able to equitably serve immigrant and refugee residents, despite low English proficiency and overall lack of access. Both the Language Access Program and Ethnic Media Program unveiled tools for departments so they can contribute to the mayor’s good governance goals.
- OIRA successfully advocates to help vulnerable immigrants get to their faraway citizenship appointments.
In June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that Seattle-area immigrants applying for citizenship would have to travel hours away to offices in Yakima, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, for their naturalization interviews and even oath ceremonies. Previously, applicants could participate in these appointments at the USCIS Seattle Field Office in Tukwila. OIRA worked with State of Washington agencies and app-based ride-hailing companies to help fund programs to assist vulnerable immigrants in being able to afford the travel to those faraway events.
- OIRA was proud to help organize the Cities for Action (C4A) National Gathering.
Hosted by the City of Seattle, OIRA staff worked closely with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) to organize this sixth annual C4A national gathering. Over 50 attendees from 32 cities and counties shared expertise and best practices to help local governments launch immigrant-inclusive programs. Panels and small group discussions focused on language access initiatives, activating networks to rapidly respond to anti-immigrant federal actions, and Census 2020 outreach and engagement plans. This year’s C4A gathering will take place in Denver.
- Our citizenship programs celebrate important milestones for new Americans.
OIRA’s citizenship programs are some of the City’s longest-running immigration-related services. The New Citizen Campaign celebrated an unprecedented 12 citizenship clinics in neighborhoods across Seattle. Combined with the New Citizen Program, both helped over 1,690 immigrants get on the pathway to U.S. citizenship.
- Our collective opposition to federal anti-immigrant policies is on the public record…times 13!
In December, OIRA submitted its 13th public comment against yet another federal anti-immigrant policy. This one specifically focused on the Trump administration’s attempt to substantially increase several immigration-related application fees. OIRA and the Mayor’s Office have teamed up to author these official documents that not only serve as records of dissent, but can also form the basis for legal arguments in litigation (see #10).
- OIRA wins in court!
In October, DHS announced changes to the naturalization process that will prevent tens of thousands of vulnerable immigrants from accessing a fee waiver to afford the $725 citizenship application process. At the end of that month, the City of Seattle joined with community-based organizations in California and Washington state to sue DHS and ask for a temporary injunction against this new rule on behalf of organizations and communities who will be irreparably harmed by these proposed changes. On December 9, 2019, OIRA won our temporary injunction blocking the DHS changes to the fee waiver rule!