On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Aaliyah Gupta, the Director of Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA), announced an office expansion and a five-point plan to strengthen immigrant and refugee communities through 2015.

“We are a nation of immigrants and there is a huge opportunity for us, as a city, to ensure that all of our residents have the opportunity to fully participate in all aspects of life in Seattle,” Murray said in a statement. “My proposal will double the size of the office that works closest with the new Americans in our City and will provide them with better services.”

One in five Seattle residents are foreign born, the mayor said.

OIRA was established in 2012, with the mission to facilitate, celebrate, and advocate the successful integration of immigrants and refugees into Seattle’s civic, economic, and cultural life.

Murray’s proposal requests additional funding through the first quarter supplemental budget, submitted to the Seattle City Council on Monday, March 24. Once approved by the Council, the $409,238 will be used to double the size of the office and hire two additional full-time staffers and provide some consultant work. The office will be expanded in April and will begin work on the newly introduced five-point action plan.

“The talent of our immigrants and refugees is considerable and the challenges they face are unique. The City can—and should—play a role in helping them,” Murray said. “This action plan is a multi-faceted approach to providing the help that our immigrant and refugee communities need.”

The five-point plan, listed below, illustrates a work plan for the expanded office.

• Point 1: Strengthen Seattle’s language access policies and protocols

Language access is a basic customer service necessity. OIRA will assist in making it easier for Seattle’s immigrant and refugee residents to access the services the City provides in the languages that these residents need. OIRA will also work with city departments to design protocols and strengthen systems to effectively serve immigrants and refugees.

• Point 2: Expand access to ESL programs

Learning English is critical to getting a job, engaging with the school district and being involved in the community. Seattle needs to look closely at the range of ESL programs in the Greater Seattle area and identify any gaps.

• Point 3: Support for immigrant owned small businesses

OIRA will explore ways to ensure that our small immigrant and refugee-owned businesses thrive by supporting small business development and providing technical assistance. While immigrants have a high rate of opening businesses, many of those businesses struggle to survive and the rate of closure is high.

• Point 4: Citizenship corners and naturalization campaign

Many Seattle residents are eligible to be naturalized, but have not done so. OIRA will work with the libraries, community centers, and neighborhood hubs that are run by the city to promote citizenship and the benefits of naturalization.

• Point 5: Community safety

Based on the recommendations of the Safe Communities project last year, OIRA will implement a Refugee Women’s Institute this fall. This is a pilot project, a new innovative way of thinking about building relationships between our refugee communities and our police department. This institute will pair female police officers with refugee women over eight weeks, with the goal to breaking down the communication and trust barriers and towards building stronger, more trusting relationships.

For more information on the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, visit http://www.seattle.gov/office-of-immigrant-and-refugee-affairs.

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