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NW Immigrants' Groups Link Arms for Regional Clout

October 24, 2011

SEATTLE - Immigrants' rights organizations in the Northwest are taking a new approach to their concerns by working on them regionally, instead of separately by group or state.

At the National Immigrant Integration Conference this week in Seattle, groups from Oregon, Washington and Idaho are pointing out that more than 1.4 million Latinos live in the Pacific Northwest. Francisco Lopez, who heads the Oregon group Causa, says working together makes sense.

"The Pacific Northwest has a regional economy. Many of our workers go between states to work in the fields. There are so many issues that are impacting our community that we need to start looking at the issues for Latinos at the regional level."

Their primary goal is to keep anti-immigrant laws out of the Northwest, explains Lopez, as well as to preserve the progress they have already made on some issues. Of the three states, for instance, only Washington allows an undocumented immigrant to have a driver's license. The groups say not allowing that is a public safety risk, and they can learn from Washington's experience as they work to change the more restrictive laws in Oregon and Idaho.

Groups in individual states have collaborated on some national issues, like comprehensive immigration reform, but not local concerns. Hilary Stern, executive director of the Washington group CASA Latina, says the Hispanic demographics in the northwestern states are similar and so are many of their priorities.

"It's a really good combination for us. It has been a little complicated because there are different state laws, but by understanding what the other states are doing, we're able to get some other ideas."

The groups say they will focus on tuition equity, access to affordable health care, jobs and wage theft by some who employ farm laborers and construction workers.

The National Immigrant Integration Conference runs through Oct. 26 at the Westin Seattle, 1900 5th Ave. Information is available at www.integrationconference.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR