Why Washington can't wait for immigrant integration

Commentary: We've made good progress, but Washington is crippling itself by putting off state-level reforms.
An August Dream Act rally in Washington state.

An August Dream Act rally in Washington state. OneAmerica

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part column. Check back Monday, Jan 14th for part two. 

When I first moved to Washington state in 1990, I was one of about 322,000 immigrant (or foreign-born) residents. We were a meager 6.6 percent of the state’s population back then. Having lived only in Washington, DC, New York City and Chicago before moving to Seattle, I remember being stunned by both the natural beauty and the lack of racial and ethnic diversity.

I gravitated to living in the south end of Seattle, which even then had a richness of culture and community with African-Americans in the Central District and Asians in the International District. Both Seattle and King County were, of course, head and shoulders over the rest of the state where there were few immigrants, except in some places like Yakima where migrant farm labor drove the economy.

Fast-forward to current day. In 2011 immigrants comprised 909,000 residents, or 13 percent of the population. To think about it another way, our immigrant population is significantly larger in number than the entire population of the state of Alaska. One of the leading states for refugee resettlement and secondary migration, Washington has a foreign-born population that hails from all over the world. We are also unique in that our major industries include immigrant workers across the spectrum, from high-technology to agricultural to service sector.

Quick, tell me: What region do most of our immigrants come from? If you said Asia, you’d be right. While this is Latin America in many other parts of the country, 40 percent of our immigrants are from many different Asian countries, while 31 percent hail from Latin America, according to 2010 Census data. Another quick one: What are the top three countries of birth for Washington immigrants? Answer: Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam. And finally, what percent of kids in our state come from immigrant families? Answer: A very significant 25 percent.

And just in case you’ve heard the anti-immigrant claims that we are being flooded with undocumented immigrants, the reality is that 75 percent of our immigrant residents are here with legal status and just under 50 percent of our immigrants are eligible to vote (Again based on 2010 Census data). 

Most importantly, whether documented or undocumented, voting or not, all immigrants play an essential role in our state’s economy and social fabric.

Washington’s dramatic immigrant growth in the past two decades (about 180 percent since 1990) matched similar huge shifts in other states that changed the course of the 2012 election and became the top story of the past two months. States like Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia went for Obama, in large part because of the political participation of immigrants — Latinos and Asians, primarily. Although these populations had been growing for some time, the GOP was asleep at the wheel, catering to a dwindling minority of white men and turning sharply to the right on federal and state immigration policies.

Here in Washington state, we have been slow to pay attention to the diversity of our growing immigrant population. In the fall of 2001, when I started what was then Hate Free Zone (later changed names to become OneAmerica), few people in the state legislature or even the Seattle City Council knew much about the Arab, Muslim or South Asian communities that were most deeply affected by post-9-11 violations of civil liberties and due process. The API community and Latino community (to a lesser extent) were more familiar, because of the advocacy of particularly effective leaders in those communities.

Seattle and King County legislators were certainly receptive to protecting the rights of these groups, and later to a push for immigration reform, but immigrants were still largely hidden from mainstream policies or politics, particularly at the state level.

Over the past ten years, political power and participation of immigrant groups across the state have grown, thanks to deep organizing efforts by numerous organizations. Immigrants are directly in front of legislators in Olympia much more often, with several immigrant lobby days representing different communities. The City of Seattle, after years of advocacy work, finally established a new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs just last year. And Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was probably the first to actively court a broad immigrant vote. 

Still, we lack a proactive and comprehensive plan that would address the needs and harness the opportunities of immigrant communities across the state. It is notable that, in the wake of the raging national discussion on the political imperative of changing demographics, there has been little substantial discussion in Washington state on the implications for our future.

Chris Vance gave a nod to shifting demographics in his recent Crosscut piece, where he mentioned the GOP’s early forays into changing to meet the needs of a “changing America” and the subsequent derailing of that by 9-11 and the Tea Party. I have seen no official (or unofficial) mention of the changing demographics by the state’s Democratic Party as yet.

It’s important to note that, even though we haven’t had a proactive and specific state immigrant agenda, several top elected officials in the state legislature have risen to take important stands on critical issues. Because of them and strong community advocacy, Washington has some invested in essential policies that put us out front nationally. These include supporting health care for all children, farm-worker housing, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, an integrated English and job training program (called I-BEST), two separate naturalization programs that assist immigrants in obtaining citizenship and drivers licenses for all Washington residents.

In the recent Governor’s race, then-candidate Inslee, after meeting with immigrant groups across the state, said he would maintain Washington’s policy of requiring only proof of residence, not immigration status, in order to get a drivers license (McKenna opposed it).  Inslee also endorsed the need for a state voting rights act that would allow for fairer and increased political participation of minority candidates — and by extension, of minority voters.  These were both important nods to the growing constituency of immigrant voters and voters of color.

Yes, there has been progress, and yes, Washington has done some good things for immigrants. But for an innovative and border state with the kind of immigrant population we have, we are behind the times. The state is missing opportunities to capitalize on a vibrant depth of experience and opportunity that arises from engaging with immigrants and designing policies that serve their needs and take advantage of their skills. Immigrants in Washington, like elsewhere, are continuing to grow in numbers and it’s past time for us to put together a proactive agenda that speaks to these diverse communities.

While “immigrant issues” have come to mean federal immigration reform to many, the lack of comprehensive immigration reform and the growth of immigrants that reside in states across the country have meant that states have taken on an increasingly important role in what we now call immigrant integration.

If immigration reform is about who gets to be here and how, immigrant integration is about how we do the nitty-gritty work of actually engaging and integrating the immigrants who are already here as our neighbors, friends and co-workers into the everyday life and economy of our communities, meeting their needs and supporting them to give their fullest to our state. 

Nationally, states like Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey have been on the forefront of creating comprehensive immigrant integration agendas. Washington was on the right track when, in 2008, Governor Chris Gregoire established a New Americans Policy Council that worked for a year to provide a Year One report that contained a thoughtful set of recommendations. Unfortunately, in the midst of a push to eliminate a number of commissions, Gregoire did not continue the Council for a second year.  The recommendations are collecting dust on office shelves somewhere.

Now, here we are in 2013, with a new Governor and a new State Legislature.  Consider this a wake-up call.  Here’s what the alarm bells are saying.

We’ve got a very substantial immigrant population that votes and helps drive Washington’s economy. Here are a few statistics:

  • In 2010 alone, Asians and Latinos provided over $32 billion in purchasing power to our state. 
  • In 2007, immigrants paid 13 percent of all the taxes paid in the state, about $1.5 billion. In 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $327.7 million in state and local taxes. 
  • In 2010, over 16,000 foreign students contributed $412.1 million in tuition, fees and living expenses, subsidizing tuition for all of our kids. 

If you’ve ever taken a cab or shopped at our ethnic groceries or stepped into a high-tech start-up, you’ve seen immigrant entrepreneurship in action. If you’ve eaten apples or cherries or tomatoes, you’ve benefited from immigrant labor. If you’ve enjoyed ethnic restaurants or the Festal cultural celebrations, you’ve relished our cultural diversity — which also helps our tourism industry. 

So, yes, while the 2012 election might signal this is about politics and growing political power, it’s also about what’s good and necessary for Washington and every single one of us. 

Governor Inslee and this new state legislature have a real opportunity to build our state’s future. It’s time to recognize and engage with this rapidly growing demographic of immigrant residents and voters in a new and powerful way. In the next part of this two-part article, I’ll get specific on the elements of a specific immigrant integration agenda for Washington.

In the meantime, I still live in Seattle’s south end and every time I see one of those 98118 stickers that signify our tremendous diversity, I am proud.

Pramila Jayapal is a Distinguished Fellow at University of Washington Law School and Distinguished Taconic Fellow at Center for Community Change. You can follow her on Twitter at @pramilaj or email her care of editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 6:53 a.m. Inappropriate

We should all get to ignore the laws we don't like, is that about it? Clearly the author is willing to lie about the Illegal Alien population and their impacts on Washington State's legal taxpaying citizens. How exactly does one get to be a Distinguished Fellow at the University of Washington Law School when they attempt to co-mingle the definitions of Legal Immigrant Residents and Illegal Aliens?

Cameron

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

This Pramila Jayapal gasbag uses the usual radical progressive doublespeak when it comes to "undocumented workers." The fact is that it is illegal for them to be working here to begin with, they aren't "immigrants" (they are criminals by definition), and they are hardly "undocumented". They have plenty of documents.... all forged or stolen.

Deporter

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

And who is hiring these horrible illegals you speak of, Deporter? White folks, like yourself, who KNOW they're illegal and do it because they can pay them less and deny them any benefits and worker's rights. And hey, it keeps their overhead low so they can sell all U.S. citizens lovely fruits and veggies at an affordable price.

Marlon

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Er, it is illegal to hire invaders. If greedy farmers who unlawfully employ these border-violating cretins make more as a result you can rest assured that the consumer won't be the ones to realize the savings. Besides, our citizenship and our sovereignty aren't for sale for the price of cheap veggies.

Deporter

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Why do presume that the individual is white? I thought we were talking about immigrants not race/ethnicity. What is your deal? Check yourself for your owm racism.

jhande

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 7:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Oresgon State University has determined the NUMBER ONE THREAT to PNW salmon and their habitats is increased immigration into the region; the vast majority of which comes from outside the U.S. and Canada.

Apparently the BEst Available Science has determined we cannot have our cake and eat it, too.

I suppose those willing to break the law are also willing to lie about that. Of course, when you suck from a non-profit position, lying pays.

Cake, anyone?

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/fw/lackey/Salmon2100.htm

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 9:42 a.m. Inappropriate

As one of the many immigrants who call Washington State home, it's refreshing to read a positive article (for once) about people like me who move here for a better life.

While the winters have gotten harder over the years (the gloom really does get to me), I love Washington more and more every time I go away and come back. This is where I've made a home, this is where my family is.

I do my part to contribute. I <3 Washington! How can we make it better, stronger? I'm all for asking sensible questions and working hard to make it happen. Let's do it!

Eriya

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Only rabid globalists, buffoons who don't know history, or blithering idiots would propose what this Jayapal clown is proposing.

The border is not secure for one thing. Illegals are streaming into the US from Mexico 24/7 regardless of what the corrupt Obama regime tells you. Interior enforcement is abysmal, and there's no evidence that the loathsome and destructive socialist-dominated government will do anything about it.

The absolutely, positively, honest to God final amnesty EVER was passed in 1986 and signed into law by Ronald Reagan (something he regretted later). Boy, did the American people get screwed but good with that one. What we've had is one corrupt and treasonous regime after another who have failed to give us what Reagan promised; a secure border and strict enforcement in the workplace and elsewhere. The worst regime so far is that of tin pot dictator Comrade ObaMao. This crap has got to stop. Meanwhile these lousy invaders need to be arrested when encountered and deported promptly. Any invader who wants legal residency needs to go to the back of the line. The back of the line starts in their home countries, not here. I say build a wall and deport 'em all.

Deporter

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 3:55 p.m. Inappropriate

So you believe insulting someone's humanity is an appropriate response to their opinion? Tells me all I will ever need to know about you and whether to read another word you ever write. Your insecurity is astounding.

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

We are a nation of immigrants: built by immigrants, made great by immigrants, and of course, populated by immigrants. Immigration reform is about helping the people who come here to integrate successfully into the culture and society of the U.S. It is also about helping U.S. citizens understand immigrant needs and what is driving them to leave their home countries and seek the safety and the opportunity that the U.S. provides.

Ask yourselves this question: If all "illegal" or legal immigrants looked like you, dressed like you, talked like you, would you be so upset about their presence here?

Marlon

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 12:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Looks like Marlon is a Tan Klan (La Raza) or George Soros agitator. Am I right?

What's this "nation of immigrants" crap? Over 90% of us were born here. How could that preponderance of home-grown Americans justify us being called a "nation of immigrants"? Your argument is a circular one. It is completely irrelevant....and idiotic to boot.

Deporter

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 1:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm white with blue eyes and have no ability to tan. Unless you're a Native American, you are descended from immigrants. You are ignorant to your nation's history and therefore you're "argument" is irrelevant.

Marlon

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

What is now the United States was devoid of human life, as far as we know, until the so-called "Native Americans" got here. They came from Asia, genius. Every frickin' country on earth is a "nation of immigrants" by your twisted logic. Besides, illegal aliens aren't "immigrants" anyhow. They are criminals. http://goo.gl/RhU0k

Deporter

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

In it's crude way, the entity self styled as "Deporter" strives to make a valid point, viz. - North America is not a cradle of civilization like Africa, Europe or Asia. Everyone born here, including Native Americans, is the descendant of immigrants.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 6:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Say dbreneman, being a "descendant of immigrants" does not justify opening the floodgates to an illegal invasion, ya got that Jack?

Deporter

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

As a long-time community college instructor, I have watched the demographics of my classes change; now, over half my students in a typical class are immigrants or children of immigrants. They are from all over -- Nepal, Ukraine, Mexico, Vietnam, South Korea, and so forth -- and together we build a learning community and learn from each other. I appreciate this thoughtful essay on the next steps toward more integration.

CCteacher

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I can't believe indian tribes remain a part of the Democratic Party cartel when the Democratic Party cartel keeps importing illegal immigrants. I guess those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Oh well, at least nowadays they're being bought with tax breaks, business monopolies and government grants instead of glass beads and blankets.

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm so glad to see a thoughtful article that highlights the contributions that immigrants make the WA's economy and culture. If we want to keep growing as a state, we've got to get better on our immigrant integration. We got one more seat in the congress thanks to immigrants, not to mention thousands of jobs, millions of dollars into the economy, not to mention delicious food and wonderful culture. It is high time that we started recognizing the amazing contributions that immigrants have made to WA, and to the US as a whole, for generations. Bravo.

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, legals and illegals alike buy groceries, gas, lottery tickets, automobiles, apartments, houses, Seahawk tickets, and alcohol and marijuana and all throw money into and take money out of the great Washington state casino economy. Imagine all the layoffs if all illegals disappeared from the economy...the public schools would really lose funding. Arizona supposedly has seen a drop of 200,000 plus in their 'illegal population'. Always follow the money.

animalal

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 6:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Well Mexico would be upset, they get 23 billion dollars/year from illegals. Hard to believe that Democrats aren't interested in that money. Seems they just want to raise taxes on us working Americans. Nice. I doubt schools would be affected, they don't get their funding from illegal aliens. Last I looked it was the underperforming legislature and school levees that paid for schools.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 5:52 a.m. Inappropriate

And all that increased demand comes at a cost to the environment. One cannot be pro illegal immigrant and call themselves an "environmentalist".

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 11:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I am not seeing why it is up to the citizens of the United States to assist legal immigrants in integrating into the United States. It seems to me that that is on the legal immigrant. The assistance the legal immigrant received by being allowed to legally reside in the United States is enough. The same goes for the idea that the United States Citizenry should cater to the "needs" of legal immigrants. It is almost as if we are supposed to treat legal immigrants as special. They aren't special.

Illegal immigrants are illegal immigrants. There is absolutely no onus on the United States Citizen to assist illegal immigrants with integrating into the United States. Illegal immigrants should be thankful for the tolerance they already receive.

Immigration to the United States needs to be controlled by the United States. There needs to be control of population growth engendered by immigration in order to be able to effectively plan for the future of the United States. Immigration policy, and law, do not seem based on data, or facts. They are haphazard with no seeming goal, or designed central policy. It is a mess.

Immigration policy, immigration law, and immigration limits need to be set based upon data, and facts. This should be designed policy that takes an overview of the issue, and collates initiatives, measures, and law in order to have a unified, purposeful, immigration policy. The current immigration regime is not good for the United States, or United States Citizens.

jhande

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 11:59 a.m. Inappropriate

An immigrant, by definition, is someone who is here legally. "Illegal immigrant" is an oxymoron. A foreign national who is here without permission is an illegal alien. This is not a pejorative term, it is an objective description of the person's status in regards to immigration law. Part of the problem with addressing and dealing with this problem is that the newspeak words used to describe it have become meaningless, and I doubt that that is unintentional.


There is another, and I believe preferable, way to describe this problem. That is to admit that Mexico is a failing state, that it is unable to care for its citizens, and therefore the masses flocking here are refugees deserving of our protection. That description of the aliens' status would insult, humiliate, and anger the government of Mexico. Good. For the sake of clarity, it's time we adopt it.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Refugee camps? Sounds good. We could run a work release program from them and monitor the behavior of the refugees. Just think we could tax the refugees. What Democratic legislator wouldn't love to get their hands that money.

Djinn

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

There should be no illegal immigration. Points:
1. We should start by handing each immigrant an SS card at the border so that they begin to pay in immediately. Then begin a paper record on them and suggest to them where they can get food, medicine, shelter and employment.
2. We need to support whatever health care they need--who wants sick people moving among us?
3. What is this border thing all about anyway? We spend millions to watch our borders, and for what reason?
It's only a line on a map.
4. Significant suspicions, superstitions, phobias and xenophobia are what feeds the immigrant problem. Clear your minds and let be what will be. I have lived overseas in both the eastern and western hemisphere. I have never been hurt by anyone while living in these areas. What is your fear? Ask yourself if it it imagined, or is it real?
We should be grateful for the influence of wise and hard working people who have come to our shores.
5. Don't hand-me-down xenophobia to your children--it will only drain your children's resources and prevent their complete maturity into wholesome, forward-looking citizens.
Full blown immigration will come--it will come and your energy will be wasted on fighting it.

"I have sworn, upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." --Thomas Jefferson, who gave us the Declaration of Independence, one of the most significant documents written by man.

Lar

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Absolutely LAR, Why have a government? Why pretend to have Sovereignty? There is no difference between Mexico and the United States and Canada...or anywhere else right?

We need to support the healthcare needs of whoever can make to the border or the US? Gee why wouldn't anyone who has been diagnosed with an expensive to treat disease just book a tourist trip and overstay on our dime? Maybe we can give them a house and foodstamps and a cash allowance too? If there is no value to citizenship, No shared values,sacrafices and investments why have a country? We can just open the borders and be bled dry.

Cameron

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