Tim Burgess, Seattle City Councilmember, Says City Needs New Office to Help Immigrants and Refugees

Toby Guevin says that Seattle needs a "centralized location" for dealing with recent immigrants and refugees from foreign countries.

And a least one member of the Seattle City Council agrees wholeheartedly.

"It's incredibly important that Seattle seems a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees," Guevin tells Seattle Weekly. "A lot of immigrants are coming from countries where government is not something you go to for support. Instead, we believe there should be a coordinated response to their needs."

Guevin, a member of the group One America, is pushing for the creation of a new city department under the working title "Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs."

The concept is not new, as other cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Houston have similar departments.

In fact, Fatima Shama, New York City's director of its Office of Immigrant Affairs, was in Seattle last week where she met with several city councilmembers.

Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess was one of those members who met with Sharma, and he tells Seattle Weekly that he thinks the new office is a great idea.

"Here are a couple statistics: Seventeen percent of city population is foreign-born, that's about 103,000 people," Burgess says. "There are lots of challenges with these communities in terms of jobs, economic opportunities, and integration into the cultural framework of the city. We find the city government response tends to be fragmented and not always well-formulated and strategic. The city spends a lot of money on social services, police, and other costs associated with immigrant and refugee community. The more we can be very focused and integrated in our response, the better."

Burgess' office estimates that creating the new two-person office will cost about $200,000 and that some of that cost will be offset by streamlining services that the city already provides for immigrants and refugees.

The Council will discuss the new office on Wednesday and will cast a vote on whether to create it or not next Thursday.

Burgess declined to say whether he thought the new office idea would pass a vote, but a member of his staff said that he was confident that it would.

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