Photo credit: King County

The political climate right now is scary, to say the least, for refugee and immigrant communities. This past February, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed a bill into law creating the King County Immigrant and Refugee Commission.

The commission’s focus is to bring the county government, community organizations and service providers together to “achieve greater impacts in areas of biggest concern for immigrants and refugees, such as jobs and economic development, housing, transportation and health,” according to the commission’s website.

The formation of the commission started with a resolution in 2016 co-sponsored by King County Councilmember Gossett and Councilmember Dembowski to create a taskforce for immigrant and refugee issues. This taskforce received 500 responses from community members and did 25 community listening sessions, across the county, on problems and solutions to their issues. The top recommendation was to create a commission as a nexus point to lift up immigrant and refugee voices.

The formation of this commission is timely as anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment has been on the rise nationally and locally in King County – overtly and subtly. According to the county, this commission is intended to help support King County in it’s interactions with and within immigrant and refugee communities through advising the county government, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor and other county government departments and agencies on the impact of policies, programs and laws on immigrant and refugee communities.

The commission’s other purpose is outreach. Communication between government and many immigrant and refugee communities is often strained, and with this commission, the county hopes it will bridge that communication gap; as well as be a voice for the community in how the county implements new laws and projects.

The IE spoke to Bookda Gheisar from the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice for more information on how the commission will serve the community’s interests:

International Examiner: Let’s just get right to it. How are the interests of everyday community members going to be reflected by the work and composition of this commission?

Bookda Gheisar: The commission will have access to the county leadership and they will have access to the services [providers] that community members need. They will continuously have contact and communication with those leaders, for example, transit, the MLK County Communities of Opportunity program, and other programs and people who will have a major impact and effect on communities. They will have communication, connect and they can act as representatives [for the community].

As far as the community, in selecting people, many people have already reached out and said that they are interested in being on the commission. Though, we need people who are actually reflective of the community and serving large constituencies.

We don’t just want people who are larger than life, brilliant and smart, we want people who have the ear of the community, understand their issues, and really cares about the fate of their communities.

IE: How does this selection process work?

BG: A committee has come together and they are quickly working on an application and a strategy to have the kind of geographic representation, reach, and other things we want to have around the table. The application will be open for 60 days and then they will interview the candidates and submit the nominees to council for approval.

IE: On the search committee, is there any representation from the CID or the API community?

BG: Yes, there’s a member from the Cambodian community who is on the selection committee. There’s a member of the Japanese-American community on the committee. Remember, we interviewed 500 people and did 25 community conversations so it’s been a long and delicate process. We have very specific criteria for the commission members.

IE: Will the commission have a budget or additional resources, given the political climate and working-class folks facing barriers to participating in civic activities like this?

BG: I’m not sure that the political climate will impact the budget for the commission, but we were unable to pass legislation to provide commissioners with an honorarium. No other commission provides honorariums for commissioners; however, there’s a budget for community meetings, participation and food, yes.

For information on how to apply for the commission, go to their webpage here. The application is open until April 27th. After the 27th, the application process will be closed.

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