Refugees, immigrants to ask state for help

More than 1,500 refugees and immigrants, at least 150 of them from Snohomish County, plan to meet with lawmakers in Olympia today to plead for funding for services that help them learn English and find jobs.

“We are trying to raise awareness about the populations that are here legally, and help empower those communities to speak on their own behalf,” said Soneireh Amirfaiz, executive director of the Refugee Women’s Alliance in Seattle, the organization behind the event. “If they have a chance to talk about their needs, it can be very powerful.”

It is the third year the Refugee Women’s Alliance has organized the event. The refugees and immigrants plan to hold a rally in front of the Capitol building, then break into small groups to meet with individual legislators.

Three buses will travel from Snohomish County, said Van Dinh Kuno, director of the Snohomish County Refugee and Immigrant Forum.

“We’re going down there to make sure our lawmakers don’t forget about refugees and immigrants,” she said.

Lawmakers say they need to cut $6 billion in the next two-year budget. Those cuts could include $3.8 million from a program that offers job-specific English lessons for new immigrants and refugees, Amirfaiz said.

That’s about 20 percent of the total funding for that program, she said.

It’s not clear whether the Legislature will be able to save funding for programs during this budget cycle, but elected leaders who meet refugees and immigrants and hear their personal stories might be more likely to preserve funding in the future, Amirfaiz said.

“This is about civic engagement,” she said. “We are trying to empower refugees and immigrants to become engaged. This is their country and they have a voice.”

Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422,

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