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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

People are afraid of speaking Spanish in public, even in liberal Seattle

KUOW photo/Liz Jones
Seattle City Council members hold roundtable discussion with immigrant and refugee service providers.

Since the election last month, some day laborers have said they don't feel comfortable speaking Spanish in public. 

“And that’s here in the City of Seattle, riding on public transit," said Marcos Martinez, Executive Director of Casa Latina, a Seattle non-profit that helps immigrant day laborers find jobs. "That just shows the extent of the problem we have.”

Seattle is making big plans for the  inauguration on Jan. 20, when President-elect Donald Trump is set to take the oath of office. The city aims to gather more than a thousand immigrants and refugees for a day of workshops and services at McCaw Hall, one of the city’s grandest venues.

Cuc Vu heads Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which is organizing the Jan. 20 event. She calls it a symbolic counterpoint to the inauguration, and a way to assure immigrants that they are welcome in Seattle.

“We have often thought and used the term ‘One Seattle.' This is that moment,” Vu said a city council committee meeting Wednesday.

“We really invite every interested individual and organization who believes in these values and believes in this vision to be a part of this effort.”

Vu said the event will offer services for immigrants and refugees, including help with citizenship applications and legal documents in various languages.

The council meeting also included a roundtable discussion with various organizations that serve immigrant and refugee residents in Seattle. Council members asked for suggestions about how the city can better support immigrants, and about post-election concerns surfacing in these communities. They got an earful.

Said Estella Ortega, Executive Director, El Centro de la Raza: “Families are worried about being split apart. But also there is a sense of, I would say, terror. People are aware of their surroundings and wondering if they’re being followed.” 

Mahnaz Eshetu, of the Refugee Women’s Alliance, said: “Some of our staff who were wearing hijab were kind of pushed out of the road while they were driving. I think as adults we can deal with it. What worries me is the pain and the psychological impact that this hate and hatred situation is going to have on our youth.”

Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling & Referral Services said the Japanese-American community is appalled at the suggestion of a registry for Muslims.

For Japanese-Americans during World War II, "the registry was the first step in the mass incarceration of people based solely on their race and ancestry. The city has a big voice it can use to get information out about the rights of immigrants and refugees.”

Luis Ortega, co-chair of Seattle’s Immigrant and Refugee Commission, said, “Our resolve to remain an inclusive, welcoming and more equitable city is yet to be tested. I don’t only mean the city as an institution; I mean as neighbors, as communities, as individuals as well.”

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez organized the roundtable discussion and said more will follow in 2017. 

Year started with KUOW: 2006