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City of Seattle
Gregory J. Nickels (former Mayor)

SUBJECT: Mayor announces increased services for immigrants and refugees

6/20/2007  10:00:00 AM
Haddis Tadesse (206)684-8119

Mayor announces increased services for immigrants & refugees
More translation services, business training opportunities
and community-based support

SEATTLE – Today Mayor Greg Nickels announced steps Seattle is taking to improve services to Seattle's growing immigrant and refugee population. Improved translation and interpretation services, technical assistance for immigrant-owned businesses, increased access to city grants and an advisory board focused on immigrant and refugee issues are just some of the actions included in the mayor’s plan.

“Though the growing number of immigrants and refugees in Seattle come from different parts of the world, they all share a desire to build a new and better life in this country,” Nickels said. “I’m committed to removing barriers to that better life and ensuring that this city serves all of its residents equally. We all benefit when we are all included.”

“We welcome immigrants and refugees to Seattle. They bring new energy, an eagerness to learn and work and to improve their lives,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee. “ Seattle will work to eliminate any obstacles to their efforts to succeed.”

“We are delighted that the city is announcing this important immigrant and refugee action plan,” said Pramila Jayapal, founder and executive director of Hate Free Zone. “The city has provided critical support in the past for immigrants and refugees, such as prohibiting city employees – including police officers – from routinely asking for immigration status, and accepting other forms of identification, such as Mexican identification cards. The city has also strongly endorsed the call for comprehensive immigration reform. Our communities have been calling for an action plan such as this, including the component of a new Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board, and we are very pleased to see the city taking very seriously the need to provide immigrant communities with improved access to city services.”

Drawn to freedom and opportunity in the United States, tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees from around the world have made Seattle home. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Seattle is home to nearly 100,000 foreign-born individuals from a host of different countries. If the population trends continue, there could be as many as 120,000 foreign-born individuals in

Seattle by 2010, potentially 20 percent of Seattle's 2010 total population projection.

Seattle is working to promote full participation of immigrants and refugees in the economic, social and civic life of the city. In 2005, the city spent $7.4 million on 75 targeted programs that provided counseling and family support, education and English-as-a-second-language services, information and outreach. The city knows it needs to do more. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive strategy to better serve Seattle residents with limited English proficiency, Nickels developed the Immigrant & Refugee Report and Action Plan.

The plan identifies issues and actions regarding:

  • Access to services and information
  • Protection of civil rights
  • Civic engagement
  • Work force and economic development
  • Service delivery

Input provided by members of Seattle's immigrant and refugee communities, city staff, community leaders and service organizations helped shape this plan. And, because Seattle is not the only city grappling with these challenges, city officials also took a look at what other governments are doing to meet the needs of their immigrant and refugee communities.

The city now offers improved interpretation services over the phone and is conducting a pilot translation/interpretation program at two neighborhood service centers – Lake City and Southeast Seattle. Using special telephones, interpreters will be available to help customers who visit either of these service centers.

Last week, Nickels announced the newly renamed Customer Service Bureau (formerly known as the Citizens Service Bureau) will now serve as an initial point of contact for immigrants and refugees seeking city services. Telephone translators will be available to all who call 684-CITY ( 2489) or visit the bureau’s downtown office.

The city is also establishing an Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board to advise the mayor and City Council on relevant issues. The board is expected to hold its first meeting in September. This is just one example of the city’s plans to enhance its outreach efforts to immigrant and refugee communities.

In addition, the city will collaborate with community partners to develop special courses on U.S. laws and customs and vocational English, and will make citizenship assistance more available and provide more employment training opportunities, which immigrants can access. Seattle will also make it easier for small immigrant-and-refugee-run service organizations to apply for grants to meet their communities’ needs. The city plans to work with East African communities to assess community needs and strengthen their capacity to meet those needs.

Earlier this year, the mayor signed an executive order to improve citywide translation and interpretation services. For example, it calls for translating vital documents, such as an explanation of city services, consent and complaint forms, notices of rights, and notices of free language assistance into Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Somali, Tagalog and Korean. These are the primary languages spoken by a substantial number of Seattle residents.

The new translation and interpretation policy complements the city’s existing Web site which indexes documents that have been translated into one or more languages. Twenty-five languages are represented. In 2006, the city improved department access to in-house interpretation services. Multilingual employees register to be part of an “Employee Language Bank,” which lists those able to assist with the short-term, immediate language needs of people seeking access to city services and programs.

The mayor’s plan can be reviewed viewed online at his Web site:

Get the mayor’s inside view on initiatives to promote transportation, public safety, economic opportunity and healthy communities by signing up for The Nickels Newsletter at

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