SEATTLE – Last month, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a new bill to establish the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs as an executive department on Feb. 6, 2012. The new office will coordinate the City’s efforts in reaching and providing services to immigrant and refugee communities.

The bill also renames the Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board to the Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission.  The Seattle City Council created the Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board and developed an Immigrant and Refugee Action Plan in 2007. The Immigrant and Refugee Commission will work with the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative to integrate principles of social justice and ensure consistency with the Race and Social Justice Initiative.

“The City of Seattle has better invested in the way we serve all residents – including immigrants and refugees,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the committee that will oversee the new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. “This new office will improve how the City integrates new immigrants and refugees into the civic life of Seattle, as well as help all residents benefit from the diversity of immigrant and refugee cultures. It will be mutually beneficial to all.”

“The Office will make city government more accessible and responsive to Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities, which now represent 17 percent of the City’s population,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “I look forward to working with the new office to better include these communities, our newest residents, in our civic process and life.”

“OneAmerica applauds the Council’s leadership in creating this office which will help streamline access to services and create innovative ways to recognize and encourage immigrant and refugee communities to participate in city life,” said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica. “The office also provides a clear signal that city government values the input and contribution made by immigrant communities.”

The bill recognizes that Seattle is home to many immigrant and refugee communities and that language and cultural barriers can compromise equal access to government services and programs. These barriers, combined with the complex nature of issues that affect immigrant and refugee communities, led to strengthen the relationship between government and these communities.

“Immigrant and refugee communities contribute to the vitality of Seattle in countless ways, but they can also have trouble accessing city services,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess. “The Council created this office because we saw the need to provide a more coordinated welcome to these individuals and families.”

“The Immigrant and Refugee Commission is excited about the new City of Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.  Seattle’s Immigrants and refugees have quickly become part of the city’s economic life, from the bustling International District downtown to the polyglot scene that is the South East, the most diverse zip code in the nation,” said co-chair Devon Abdallah.

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