The efforts, coordinated through the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, will improve English language education and job training, encourage eligible permanent residents to pursue U.S. citizenship, and improve engagement of immigrants and refugees in public safety initiatives.
“Immigrants account for nearly one-fifth of all Seattle residents and are a vibrant addition to our City,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Many are fleeing violence or extreme poverty, seeking a safe place to raise their families. Our goal is to help them gain the skills they need to get a job, start a business and become U.S. citizens here in their new home.”
The mayor made his announcement on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, when Americans celebrate the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the civil rights we are granted as citizens.
Murray is proposing new funding to launch an innovative model called Ready for Work: ESL and Computers that integrates English language education with critical job skills training. In the proposed budget, 80 new immigrants will come together for language instruction from the Seattle Colleges and community-based organizations. The courses will be augmented by hands-on skills training in computers and other workplace basics that will open doors to employment.
The mayor is supporting efforts to encourage citizenship through the New Citizens Program by moving it to the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in 2016 to amplify its impact and reach. The Seattle area is home to 68,000 legal permanent residents eligible to become citizens; a total of 180,000 people eligible for citizenship live across Washington. Yet only 17,000 new citizens were naturalized in Washington State last year.
Citizenship offers many benefits, including a chance to participate as a voter in our democracy and higher wages and employment rates than non-citizens. New citizens report higher earnings – between 8 and 11 percent higher – after naturalization.
“The Mayor’s proposal is a bold and sensible vision to make real Seattle’s commitment to being a more welcoming community for all of its residents,” said Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica. “Together, the programs announced by the mayor will strengthen the City’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and affirm Seattle’s national leadership in supporting our newest Americans to navigate and integrate into our increasingly diverse community. By investing in English language and jobs-readiness training, promoting citizenship, building bridges between refugee residents and law enforcement, and strengthening language access programs, we are investing in more effective government and a more equitable future where everyone belongs.”
Earlier this month, the City launched the Refugee Women’s Institute, a new program designed to build understanding and trust between refugee communities and the Seattle Police Department. The institute, the first of its kind in the nation, will build a grassroots network of emerging refugee women leaders, while increasing the cultural competency of the female officers who participate.
The mayor’s budget will include $680,000 in new funding for OIRA to support these initiatives, for a total 2015 budget of $1,470,000 for the office.
The mayor will submit his budget to the City Council on Sept. 22nd.