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Washington has a unique and longstanding program, run through the Office of Refugee Assistance (ORIA), that assists low-income refugees in achieving citizenship and brings in Federal dollars for a range of benefits. However, the value of citizenship as an economic development opportunity was only recognized in 2008, with the funding of a successful but relatively small state program, called Washington New Americans. WNA worked with partners across the state, utilized ethnic media, Citizenship Days and enormous amounts of pro-bono legal assistance to provide citizenship services to non-refugee populations and other low-income families.
Inslee and the Legislature should continue the state's significant funding of the ORIA program, while expanding the Washington New Americans Citizenship Program. The Department of Commerce could also fund Individual Development Accounts and include saving for citizenship fees. Engaging banks or credit unions, such as the Boeing Employees Credit Union, could bring people into the formal credit market and provide a mutually beneficial partnership.
- 5. Focus on kids: Perhaps one of the most important areas to invest is in our children and their future. Consider these statistics:
- One in four kids in Washington live in immigrant families; 84 percent of all children in immigrant families were US citizens by birth.
- Children of immigrants accounted for over one-third of all children in low-income families.
- In 2010, 23 percent of foreign-born families with children under 18 lived below the poverty threshold, compared to fewer than 8 percent for native-born families.
Initiatives that ensure health care for all children and allow college-bound undocumented kids to access state-based financial aid are essential.
In addition, Washington must ensure that early childhood and education programs have a targeted focus on immigrant kids. The Road Map Project has taken this issue on by creating a special work group focused on ELL kids in the nine King County school districts covered by the project. Utilizing targeted universalism principles, the state Department of Early Learning should revise its recent policy change that requires home childcare workers to obtain a GED as part of its licensing. This policy ignores the fact that hundreds of immigrant home childcare workers do not need and will not be able to quickly obtain, a GED. Instead, DEL should be thoughtful about designing specific training goals and skills for those caregivers and then creating a process that helps them acquire those particular skills.
- 6. Push for immigration reform. Washington must play a critical role in our nation's upcoming 2013 debate on immigration reform. Living in the shadows without legal immigration status is one of the biggest barriers to integration. The fear of deportation, lack of ability to negotiate fair wages, or lack of access to services can squash any other integration efforts. The Center for American Progress estimates that legalizing undocumented immigrants would net $1.5 trillion in additional GDP to the U.S. economy over a decade. Washington stands to benefit tremendously. From legal immigrants waiting a decade or more to be re-united with an immediate family member to our industries that rely on immigrants, America’s broken immigration system is crippling our state.
Inslee and the Legislature should weigh in immediately with every member of our state's congressional delegation, urging them to take a proactive role in ensuring Washington’s future by passing immigration reform. Our immigration policies should reflect our values of family, human dignity and work. Olympia can also help build political momentum by: passing a state resolution on the need for immigration; pulling together top business leaders of corporations based in Washington (Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks) to push for reform; and conducting an economic analysis of the economic benefits of reform to the state.
This integration agenda is a series of steps toward successful integration of immigrants in our state. Let’s achieve a new level of shared economic prosperity in our state through truly inclusive programs. That’s good for everyone who lives here, and for our state as a whole.
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