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Washington Extends Practical Welcome to Immigrants

March 18, 2008

Seattle, WA – Washington legislators decided to take a different and more positive approach to immigration than some other states when they approved funding for the "New Americans Initiative." It's an attempt to set aside immigration rhetoric and deal with the realities of life in the Evergreen State by determining how to help people break through barriers to citizenship. This month, the governor will appoint a "New Americans Council" to make recommendations.

The need is urgent. Twelve percent of Washington's total population was born outside the United States, and the state ranks fourth in the nation for the number of refugees resettled here.

Pramila Jayapal of the group "Hate Free Zone" says 135,000 immigrants are already in the state legally, and most want to assimilate. But they face financial hardships and language hurdles, and few resources are available to help them negotiate the system.

"If you think about America and you think about our values--as a democracy and as a country that provides opportunity and hope to people around the world--this immigration debate is not really about immigration. It's about who we want to be as a country."

She says the goal is to turn the anger and rhetoric of the national immigration debate into a more practical focus on helping people contribute in their new lives here in Washington.

"Most Americans don't believe that a fence is going to stop people from coming in. Nor do they believe that it makes sense to deport everybody. What they want are sensible solutions that are going to help make sure that immigrants can be a positive part of the community."

Jayapal says Washington is missing out on the skills of doctors, teachers and other professionals because, once they get here, there's no way to plug their skills into their local communities.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA