Last Monday afternoon, people poured into the Chambers of both Seattle City Council and King County Council to tell heart breaking stories of families separated, people delivered to dangerous situations and injustice at the hands of the federal government. They urged their representatives to take decisive action. Then, simultaneously, Seattle City Council and King County Council both passed impactful and timely investments to support our immigrant and refugee families, neighbors and friends.
Our immigration system has been broken for decades now, but President Trump’s aggressive anti-immigrant rhetoric combined with an increased intensity of federal enforcement activity in our communities has families living in fear, regardless of immigration status. The success of our region hinges on being a safe and welcoming place for all residents to live, work and raise a family.
This is why we enthusiastically and urgently call on our fellow elected leaders throughout the Northwest to join us. We urge you to actively support policy and private partnerships for investing in the resilience of immigrants and refugees across our communities.
We can and must stand as one region in this crucial effort.
Foreign born residents make up over 18% of the Seattle population, over 20% in King County and number a little under one million for Washington State. These families are not a small subset of our community, they are integral to the fabric of our economy and every community throughout our state.
The benefits of vibrant community engagement by immigrants are undeniable. Statewide data shows this community paid over $8 billion in taxes in 2014, while exercising over $22 billion in spending power. King County saw a 64 percent increase in foreign born residents since 2000, and at least 10,000 entrepreneurs are foreign born in the greater Seattle area. These residents don’t simply support our growing economy, but enhance our cultural landscape. Whether you’ve experienced Lunar New Year celebrations in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, Fiestas Patrias in South Park, Viking Days in Ballard, the Cultural Crossroads Festival in Bellevue, or the Sikh Vaisakhi-Khalsa festival in Kent – everyone benefits from the diverse cultures that exist in every neighborhood and town in our region.
We recognize the challenges local jurisdictions face when developing budgets and funding core services. State mandated revenue caps and reliance on regressive measures strain jurisdictions of every size. Through efficiencies and underspending, we identified these unencumbered funds as a way to invest directly in civil immigration legal defense and community organizations serving immigrant and refugee families. As jurisdictions consider their budget and appropriation priorities in the coming months we hope they find creative ways to invest in similar core services for these communities. This is vital to build trust so that worried residents feel secure, welcome and protected.
These investments align with the recommendations from reputable regional community organizations on the front lines of engaging immigrant and refugee communities, including OneAmerica, the Muslim Association of Puget Sound and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The fear in our communities is palpable, and residents need to both hear and see elected and community leaders taking concrete policy and budgetary steps to ensure they are safe and welcome in our regional community.
Lorena González serves on the Seattle City Council, holding a citywide seat. Joe McDermott is the King County Council Chair.