In July, the Washington State legislature finally completed work on the State’s operating budget just in time to avoid a partial government shutdown. For months, grassroots community leaders called and wrote to their state representatives and traveled to Olympia to advocate in person for the issues that matter most to our community: an education system that works for all, access to citizenship services, voting rights, and much more.
Whether the legislature fully met its obligation to fund education remains to be confirmed in the courts. In the big picture the agreement doesn’t come close to fixing Washington’s upside-down tax code that disproportionately shifts the tax burden to lower income residents. The budget includes even more tax loop holes that often support industries at the expense of communities. And last-minute negotiations were a blow to transparency and public involvement.
Yet among the various issues that vied for attention in the waning days of the legislature’s third special session, the priorities fought for by OneAmerica’s grassroots leaders for citizenship, education and climate justice fared well:
The legislature fully funded the Washington New Americans (WNA) program, which provides free citizenship services at a time when immigrant communities are fearful of federal immigration actions. WNA has helped several thousand immigrants become citizens and with full funding, more naturalized citizens in Washington will be able to vote, to sponsor family members to come to the US, and to be protected from deportation.
Washington’s dual-language education program, which our leaders fought for in 2015, has been expanded! Dual language programs are a proven method for closing the opportunity gap for English language learners. Now, more students will get a richer educational experience, and more immigrant families will be able to pass their linguistic heritage on to a new generation. There’s more work to do to support students, but this is a historic step in the right direction.
Immigrant communities in the path of natural disasters or public health threats will now get emergency notifications translated. These notifications can mean life or death in the event of an emergency such as a wildfire, flood or earthquake.
In addition to these hard-fought victories, we’re also excited by the State legislature’s decision to enact a statewide paid family leave program. This is a huge step forward in supporting working families in all communities in Washington State.
These wins were the result of grassroots community organizing – phone banks, letter writing and directly engaging legislators in their home districts and in Olympia. This budget affirms the growing power of immigrant voices in Washington, and shows that when we organize, we win!