The Seattle area is home to 68,000 legal permanent residents eligible to become citizens; a total of 180,000 people eligible for citizenship live across Washington. Yet only 17,000 new citizens were naturalized in Washington State last year.
On Wednesday, September 17, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed new and expanded services to support the success and integration of immigrants and refugees new to Seattle.
The Mayor’s Office said the efforts, coordinated through the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, will improve English language education and job training, encourage eligible permanent residents to pursue U.S. citizenship, and improve engagement of immigrants and refugees in public safety initiatives.
“Immigrants account for nearly one-fifth of all Seattle residents and are a vibrant addition to our City,” Murray said. “Many are fleeing violence or extreme poverty, seeking a safe place to raise their families. Our goal is to help them gain the skills they need to get a job, start a business and become U.S. citizens here in their new home.”
One service the mayor plans to fund is “Ready for Work: ESL and Computers,” which would integrate English language education with critical job skills training. In the proposed budget, 80 new immigrants will come together for language instruction from the Seattle Colleges and community-based organizations. The courses will be augmented by hands-on skills training in computers and other workplace basics that will open doors to employment.
The mayor said he is also supporting efforts to encourage citizenship by moving the New Citizens Program to the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in 2016 to amplify its impact and reach.
“The Mayor’s proposal is a bold and sensible vision to make real Seattle’s commitment to being a more welcoming community for all of its residents,” said Rich Stolz in a statement. Stolz is the executive director of OneAmerica. “Together, the programs announced by the mayor will strengthen the City’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and affirm Seattle’s national leadership in supporting our newest Americans to navigate and integrate into our increasingly diverse community. By investing in English language and jobs-readiness training, promoting citizenship, building bridges between refugee residents and law enforcement, and strengthening language access programs, we are investing in more effective government and a more equitable future where everyone belongs.”
Earlier this month, the city launched the Refugee Women’s Institute, a new program designed to build understanding and trust between refugee communities and the Seattle Police Department. The institute’s goal is to build a grassroots network of emerging refugee women leaders, while increasing the cultural competency of the female officers who participate.
The mayor’s budget will include $680,000 in new funding for OIRA to support these initiatives, for a total 2015 budget of $1,470,000 for the office.
The mayor will submit his budget to the City Council on September 22.