By Carly Knight
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Hundreds of volunteers showed up to McCaw Hall on Jan. 20 to participate in a day of service to help immigrants and refugees.
The workshop, put on by the City of Seattle, was planned on Inauguration Day to show a different message than the one coming from President Donald Trump and the new administration, said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
Volunteers helped immigrants and refugees of all statuses.
Murray addressed the media in a news conference at the beginning of the event. He spoke of Trump’s inauguration speech, and how he believed it sent a message of divisiveness.
“Here at Seattle Center, which in many ways is the heart of this city, we are trying to send a different message, and a different vision of America,” Murray said. “America at its best. America that was built by immigrants. America that believes by inclusiveness, by reaching out, we can be a great city and a greater country.”
In the past, the City of Seattle has put on two citizenship workshops, where eligible legal permanent residents could get help filling out N-400 forms, the first step in becoming a citizen.
“If you are low-income, or elderly, or limited English proficient, you often have a very difficult time filling out this application,” said Joaquin Uy, Ethnic Media and Communications Specialist for the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA).
Several new services were added for the third event. “Know Your Rights” sessions were provided to inform immigrants and refugees of their due process rights, attorneys were available for free legal consultations and to help families come up with a safety plan, and volunteers talked about services that attendees may be eligible for.
OIRA Director Cuc Vu said that they did this because they were hearing from the community that more services were needed.
For many, the workshop was a bright spot in an otherwise dark day.
“One of the things that we heard from the community is a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty with this new president, with this new administration,” Uy said.
Diane Narasaki, Executive Director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), believes that Asian Americans will be disproportionately affected because they are the community with the highest rate of immigrants and refugees — over 60 percent. Many of the people that ACRS helps have expressed fears as well.
“We have heard that people are deeply fearful. Children are asking their parents, even if they are all here as legal immigrants, whether they will be separated or deported because they are hearing anti-immigrant sentiments around them, or from the administration,” Narasaki said.
But despite fears surrounding the new administration, the general feeling at McCaw Hall was hope and togetherness.
“There’s great resolve in many of the statements I’m hearing from community members, both in the Asian American Pacific Islander community and the broader community at large,” Narasaki said. “And I am not only hearing, I am seeing people come together across racial lines, across nationalities, across religions, across income levels, across issue areas to demonstrate their support for one another and to send a signal that we are all in this together.”
Wenzhen Li, an immigrant from China, came to the workshop to receive help with her citizenship application. Li spoke of how great a city she felt that Seattle was, and said that both her and her mother would have a much harder time gaining citizenship without the help of these workshops.
“There’s more hope in America,” Li said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t get my citizenship.”
Chi Chau, also an immigrant from China, came to the workshop with his mother-in-law and father-in-law to act as a translator. Chau said his in-laws struggled with the process of becoming citizens in the past because they could not speak English — but he felt that many people he met in Seattle were supportive of immigrants and refugees, and were willing to try and help.
Going forward, the City of Seattle will continue to send a message of support to immigrants and refugees.
“This is just the beginning,” Uy said. “There will be more workshops like this in the future.”
Carly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.