City seeks diverse pool of applicants for new immigrant commission

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Tacoma City Council has extended the application deadline for its recently established Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs to Feb. 12, allowing for extra time to attract community residents to fill 11 positions and one alternate position.

The 11 positions will include one youth or young adult under the age of 25. Interviewing applicants is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22, after which City Council will nominate and appoint by a majority vote. The Council desires that commission members are reflective of the “diversity and national origin of the immigrant and refugee communities,” according to the city website. Commission members will serve a three-year term.

“We are seeking residents of Tacoma from various backgrounds and experience with the issues affecting immigrants and refugees,” said Alison Beason, senior policy analyst for the City of Tacoma’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. “There is a misconception that there is a required skill set or education level for civic engagement. The City of Tacoma needs residents who have a passion for change and/or to participate in their local government activities.”

The City’s journey toward developing this commission started in 2014 when the Council expressed a desire to make the city a more welcoming and immigrant friendly city. Beason said the City made it official when it joined the Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative (Resolution 39116).

“This movement encouraged communities across the United States to maximize opportunities for economic growth and cultural vitality,” Beason said.

The Council took the next step of establishing the Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Task Force. Composed of more than 30 members representing a variety of ethnicities, the task force helped the City identify the needs of the immigrant and refugee community and recommended three priorities to the Council and former Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

The three priorities were to establish a deportation defense fund, a language access policy, and form a permanent commission on immigrant and refugee affairs.

In regard to the deportation defense fund, the City last October made an initial allocation of $50,000 to start the fund. Beason said that to date, the City has received more than $2,000 in community donations. The City is now conducting an active search for an entity to administer the contracts for legal services to help individuals facing possible deportation.

Beason said the commission will help to identify the needs of the community and advise on how to provide positive outcomes for the immigrant and refugee population. The commission will also play an advisory role in enacting and implementing the language access policy legislation.

Tacoma’s population encompasses 31 percent minority, so a commission like this makes sense. Approximately 13 percent of the city’s population is foreign born, Beason said.

“This can range from Africa, East Asia, Eastern Europe, Pacific Islands, and South America,” Beason said. “We are seeking members from these communities to represent the various struggles. The top languages spoken in Tacoma are Spanish, Khmer, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. In an effort to be more inclusive we are currently translating our (committees, boards, and commissions) application into these languages.”

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