King County Executive Dow Constantine on Tuesday (Feb. 27) signed legislation passed by the King County Council to create an Immigrant and Refugee Commission, a permanent body committed to upholding the commitment to being a welcoming county and to integrate, strengthen, and value immigrant and refugee communities.
The 13-member Commission will serve as a hub for organizations that connect immigrant and refugee communities, aligning their work with all levels of government to maximize their collective impact. The goal is to help the nearly 500,000 immigrants and refugees who live in King County successfully integrate culturally, economically, and civically while maintaining their own identities.
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“The commission will maximize the work we do with community partners to help immigrants and refugees thrive in their new home,” said Executive Constantine. “Together, we will ensure that all people who come here to build a better life can contribute to the prosperity of our region, just as many of our ancestors did generations ago.”
As a hub for collective action, the Commission will bring together community organizations, governments, and service providers to achieve greater impacts in areas of biggest concern for immigrants and refugees, such as jobs and economic development, housing, transportation and health. By uniting efforts throughout all 39 cities and the unincorporated communities in King County, it will help guide a regional approach to helping refugees and immigrants thrive as residents.
“The formation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Immigrant and Refugee Commission continues our work to ensure that our government and region is at the forefront in addressing the needs and concerns of these communities,” said County Councilmember Larry Gossett. “Together with the legislation passed by the Council this week and the formation of this commission, we will continue to build Dr. King’s Beloved Community and to make King County a welcoming and safe community for all.”
“Today, by establishing an immigrant and refugee commission, we acknowledge that unique challenges and opportunities are faced by certain communities,” said Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski. “We demonstrate we are leading with racial justice by addressing that disproportionate barriers exist and create difficulties for some of our immigrants and refugees from reaching their full potential. Our commission members with lived experience of these barriers, will help guide us as a government to do our best by these communities.”
“The Immigrant and Refugee Commission makes our collective commitment to equity, fairness, and representation a reality,” said Council Chair Joe McDermott, “For too long, the voice of these communities has been silenced and ignored, and this Commission will provide an opportunity for greater collaboration between these communities and local governments, so we can advance our collective prosperity.”
Promoting civic participation and government representation
The framework of the Commission is based on recommendations made by the King County Immigrant and Refugee Task Force, created by Executive Constantine and the County Council in 2015.
Examples of the work the Commission will do includes:
- Assist and advise the County Executive, County Council, offices of the Assessor, Sheriff, Prosecuting Attorney, and Elections and all other departments on issues, programs, policies, and legislation that impacts immigrant and refugee communities.
- Promote civic participation and government representation by refugee and immigrant community members.
Collaborate with all levels of government to ensure effective outreach and engagement with immigrant and refugee communities.
- Assist with the development and implementation of King County policies and regulations protecting and impacting refugee and immigrant communities.
- Evaluate county programs and services from the perspective of immigrant and refugee communities.
- Increase public awareness of immigrants and refugees and their contributions to the community.
A Commission that reflects the diversity of King County’s immigrant and refugee communities
The Commission will reflect King County’s increasingly diverse population with members from a wide range of life experiences, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and professional backgrounds. It also will reflect each of the county’s geographic regions with at least six members representing unincorporated communities and cities other than Seattle.
There will be members who represent organizations that meet the specific needs of immigrants as well as members who represent organizations that meet the specific to refugees. Small, local organizations will be represented along with larger ones.
The task force recommended that half of the members should be women. It also called for including members who earn a lower income to reflect the life experiences of many immigrants and refugees.
Immigrants now account for nearly 23 percent of King County’s population
Of King County’s 2.15 million residents, an estimated 488,000 – nearly 23 percent – were born in a different country. That is up from 20 percent in 2010.
More than half of King County’s immigrant population is from Asia, with smaller shares from Latin America, Europe, and Africa.
King County’s total population has increased by 212,000 over the past six years. About 44 percent of that growth is from residents who already live here having children. Another 44 percent is from people who were born in other countries. About 12 percent is from people who moved from other states, notably California, Oregon, and Texas.