Magdaleno Rose-Avila began work June 1 as the first director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which was created earlier this year by the City of Seattle.
As part of Seattle’s government, the purpose of the office is to provide immigrants and refugees information on how to utilize government services. It also acts as a platform for people and organizations to voice suggestions on how to best help immigrants and refugees in Seattle.
“What we want to do is listen to the leadership and the communities,” said Rose-Avila. “And with their help, develop a plan that meets the needs of immigrants and refugee communities.”
Fixing up the office’s website and creating awareness of the office through outreach measures are also on his agenda.
Rose-Avila was appointed director after Mayor Mike McGinn considered top candidates that were presented to him by the city council in mid-May.
McGinn explains in a phone interview that Rose-Avila’s long history as an advocate for immigrant rights stood out to him. He speculates that Rose-Avila is “respected by a wide range of immigrant and refugee groups.” Rose-Avila has been the executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and of the Social Justice Fund Northwest. He was the regional director of Amnesty International and, later, the director of Peace Corps when Sept. 11 occurred.
“When I came back [from Peace Corps], I said I wanted to be involved in [immigrant rights] because 9/11 really changed the world for immigrants. It made it much more harder; they were demonized by our own government,” said Rose-Avila.
Seattle is no stranger to immigrants or refugees. McGinn explained that Seattle has a “large percentage” of immigrant and refugees.
“The immigrant and refugee population is diverse, and different communities have different needs,” said McGinn.
Job training, education, health and utilities, transportation, and interaction with police and fire departments are some of the existing services the city already provides. This office will help people use these resources.
Poor communication is often the cause of many problems immigrants and refugees face.
Jeff Wendland, director of employment and citizenship services at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, said typical problems such as finding employment in a struggling economy, are magnified because of language barriers and “their cultural understanding of the work place.”
“I think sometimes populations such as this come to the country not of their own choosing,” said Rose-Avila, “don’t have a lot of natural allies or friends, and don’t know where to go to be able to voice the difficulties and questions that they have.”
“This is going to be an office that tries to answer the issues about unemployment, economic development, public health, treatment, public safety, criminal justice—so we can add some protection to civil rights.”