Thank you for the privilege to serve and for your support through all of these years.
Cuc Vu, Director
Nearly 8 years ago, I joined the City of Seattle as the Director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, only two years after OIRA was officially established. At that time, I had just ended community organizing work at the Human Rights Campaign with major victories for same-gender marriage in Washington State and then a U.S. Supreme Court decision that made marriage legal for LGBTQ people in all 50 states. In this new role at the City of Seattle, I felt as if I was re-connecting to my whole self as an openly gay API immigrant by returning to the most pressing issue for me: immigrant justice.
I was ready to lead with my core purpose to serve and to unite, while understanding the immense power that city, county and state governments can wield in creating strong, inclusive economies and communities. I spent my next years leading OIRA to fulfill a vision first charged to me by then Mayor Ed Murray: to make Seattle a leading city on immigrant integration. As I officially close out this chapter today, I’m proud to say that Seattle is a national model for cities and counties across Washington State and the U.S.
In partnership with community-based organizations, advocates and leaders, Seattle has set a new path for immigrant integration through innovative and community-centered initiatives:
Accessible Legal Services for our Most Vulnerable Community Members:
- Organized and launched four successful “mega” naturalization and legal services workshops, including the 2017 Seattle United for Immigrants and Refugees at McCaw Hall, which alone served more than 1,000 individuals and families.
- Expanded immigration legal services from free naturalization application assistance to free legal consultations and representation, serving more than 2,000 people annually through nonprofit legal service providers and free legal clinics.
- After judicial and administrative attacks on DACA, quickly initiated community scholarships for DACA renewal application fees.
Bolstered the City of Seattle’s Community-building, Outreach and Engagement Work:
- Strengthened trust between the City of Seattle and immigrant communities when the mistrust of government among immigrant residents was at crisis levels.
- In response to advocacy from refugee women leaders, transformed the Immigrant Family Institute into a nationally recognized community-building program between Seattle police officers and immigrant and refugee families.
- Elevated the City of Seattle Ethnic Media Program to a national best practice, integrating this work across City departments and even to other levels of government.
Culturally Relevant and Streamlined Support for Immigrant Workers:
- Launched the successful Ready to Work program across three locations and earned recognition by the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Skills Coalition as a national model on how to leverage workforce funding to support immigrant integration in the labor force.
Agile and Equitable COVID-19 Response and Recovery:
- Quickly and equitably disbursed a total of $30 million to approximately 15,000 low-income Seattle residents for COVID-19 economic relief.
- Helped lead a team that was successful in ensuring that Seattle became the first city in the country to achieve 70 percent vaccination among eligible residents and in administering 48 percent of our vaccination supply to BIPOC communities.
- In partnership with community-based organizations, set up in-language, culturally relevant helplines in 8 languages other than English to educate community members about vaccines, testing and other COVID-related issues.
Instituted Centralized Language Access Services:
- Collaborated with the Mayor’s Office to enact Executive Order 2017-10 to ensure that every city resident can access City of Seattle information and services regardless of their preferred language, which included supporting Public-Health Seattle & King County’s need for quality language access as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in the Seattle area.
- Built new language access systems, partnering with more than 50 community translators to create a centralized service that can offer translations in more than 20 languages with short turn-around times, and a management tool that has translated over 742,000 words and saved $35,000 in just the first 6 months.
Swift Immigration Policy Analysis and Advocacy:
- Led a community campaign against Trump’s xenophobic public charge rule that resulted in more than 1,000 public comments against this policy from Seattle-area residents.
- Agile policy responses against anti-immigrant and anti-refugee federal actions, including 10 community education workshops and 20 City of Seattle public comments submitted to the Federal Register in opposition to and in support of rule changes impacting immigrant and refugee communities.
All of this was possible because of your support for our work and because our mayors and councilmembers have backed up their stated commitment to Seattle’s immigrant and refugee residents with the budget and resources to hire exceptional staff and build effective programs. We began this journey in 2014 with just 3 full-time staff and a budget of approximately $400,000. Today, OIRA is an 11-person operation with an annual budget of nearly $5 million.
I extend my best wishes to incoming OIRA Director Hamdi Mohamed as she embarks on launching new OIRA milestones. She will have the most talented and dedicated team on this planet. I absolutely trust them to continue OIRA’s mission and to uphold the welcoming values of Seattle. I know that Seattle, both its residents and government officials, will ensure our city will continue to be a stronger, more inclusive and equitable city for all.