Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez speaks at a rally for immigrant rights at City Hall on November 9, 2016. (Back, left to right: Abdullahi Jama, Congresswoman-elect Pramila Jayapal, Nicole Grant). • Photo by Lexi Potter

On December 14, Councilmember Lorena González hosted an immigration and refugee roundtable discussion in response to the presidential election. Councilmember González was joined by 16 leaders of community-based organizations such as Asian Counseling & Referral Services, CASA Latina, and Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees, and Communities of Color. The International Examiner spoke with Councilmember González about the result of the discussion and what the City of Seattle is planning to do to protect immigrant and refugee communities.

International Examiner: What are some of the fears that were discussed in terms of what the Trump administration would do to immigrants and refugees?

Councilmember Lorena González: They have concerns about, for example, what happens if a parent is detained by [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]? What happens to their children? We’ve heard examples of verbal hate crimes that have been occurring within the community, so you know, being told to go back to their country, for example. Or being treated differently because you’re wearing a hijab. We heard of a woman who was driving to work who was wearing the hijab and somebody was trying to drive her off the road. We also heard a woman at the University of Washington who had a bottle thrown at her face.

We just heard a lot of stories about a lot of verbal incidents of hate. And we heard from folks who represent kids. In particular talking about children who have been experiencing bullying because of their race and ethnicity and religion. It was a good opportunity for us at the round table to sort of talk about the experiences in our community, and that really paved the way for us to have a conversation about what these communities and organizations think the city needs to do in order to make sure we have a welcoming city and that we are truly protecting our immigrant and refugee community members.

IE: What is plan to protect the rights and safety of immigrants and refugees?

González: We’re formulating the plan actively as part of the roundtable today. One of my values is to make sure an action plan is informed and informed by the community actually needs so for me it was really important to have the roundtable discussion where we could hear directly from the community what it is they need in the effort to protect the rights of immigrants and refugees. What we’ve heard today were three things that were pretty concrete.

One was to continue doing the citizenship workshop that the city is doing. I was able to successfully add $3,000 to the budget for the next two years that would expand the citizenship workshop that the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) is doing. So we’ll be able to help up to 1,000 people, which is double of what we’ve been able to do this year.

The second thing is that we need to get resources for community-based organizations so they could do legal clinics and provide legal services to people who might end up getting caught up in the immigration system or the criminal justice system to make sure their legal rights are protected.

The third thing we heard is that there’s an incredible need to get accurate information to the immigrant and refugee community about what is and isn’t happening. So there’s a strong desire from the community for the city to fund some know-your-rights workshop and and how we can use technology to disseminate that information even more broadly.

Lastly I’d say that what really came up was the call for the city to be a leader in the region on these issues. I have a strong interest on how can we come up with regional strategy around these issues related to immigrants and refugees and oppose Trump administration. In other words how do we as the City of Seattle bring along cities like Bellevue, Shoreline, Tukwila, Federal Way in this effort to make sure we’re protecting our immigrant and refugee community because we know they sometimes live here and sometimes they just work here. So it’s really important for us to recognize that we have a very mobile immigrant and refugee community.

IE: Another part of the event this morning was on data disaggregation in our community. What were some of the key findings?

González: What we find is what we thought we would find. When you look at the data in just the broad race and ethnic categories, you don’t see the real disparities that exist in those communities. One of the examples is that 87% of Asian Americans obtain a high school degree or higher. That’s the information from the U.S. Census Bureau. When we did our analysis and looked into that information deeper, we actually learned that 68% of Cambodian residents have a high school degree or higher and that number for Vietnamese residents is 71%. So there is a disparity for example in the API community. This information is important for us to understand because it informs how it is we invest our dollars and what kind of policies we’re going to pass.

IE: What do you think the Asian and Pacific Islander community should know about the work that the City of Seattle is doing right now?

González: We are going to continue to engage these community leaders to best identify how we can serve the needs of our immigrants and refugee communities. We heard from Dorothy Wong today from the Chinese Information and Service [Center] and she strongly recommended, and Diana Narasaki from ACRS concurred, that we fund “know your rights” workshops, that we standoff a public service announcement campaign to make sure we’re disseminating accurate information in a way that is culturally accessible which is really important, as you know. So it’ll be the challenge for the city to make sure not only are we getting correct information about impending laws or incidents we’re hearing about in the community, but we need to make sure we’re getting those information quickly and in a way that communities can understand it.

IE: This focus about accurate information, does it have anything to do with the amount of fake news stories circulating during the presidential election campaigns, for example?

González: As you know particularly in non-English-speaking communities, misinformation can really spread like wildfire. We need to make sure we provide accurate information to our community so that the fears of the community are managed, as opposed to being fed. Getting out accurate information as a trusted news source that is culturally digestible and understandable I think is going to be the critical services the city can and should provide.

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