New OneAmerica director aims to boost immigrant voter participation

In the past six months alone, big things have started happening for the immigrant community is Seattle.

President Obama announced a new deportation deferment policy for undocumented young adults. The Seattle City Council created the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and a new Washington State Voting Rights Act could significantly increase voting participation among immigrant communities.

Rich Stolz, the new executive director at OneAmerica, has prioritized immigrant voter participation in the upcoming election. (Photo via OneAmerica)

Stepping into the middle of it all is Rich Stolz, the new executive director for the immigrants rights organization OneAmerica.

I spoke with Stolz, a veteran of immigrant rights organizing for national campaigns, about what he sees as the future of immigration reform in Seattle.

(OneAmerica is hosting an open house tonight where members of the public can meet the new director.)

How would you compare OneAmerica to previous organizations you’ve worked for?

In the past I’ve worked on campaigns at a national scale. OneAmerica also engages issues on a national level, but the scale in Washington State is easier to manage.

What’s different about OneAmerica is the depth of engagement in the local community. For example, I’m learning what it looks like to engage parents in their children’s education in south King County.

It’s that depth of really understanding the key issues that parents are worried about, like English language learning students in schools and whether they have a handle on what it takes for their children to succeed.

It’s a level of engagement I didn’t have at national levels.

What are the pressing issues facing the immigrant community?

The biggest one is insuring immigrant communities turn out in this election, that they are well represented by their votes and are fully educated on the issues.

There are a range of issues that come out of this process. We’re also focusing on the Washington Voting Rights Act and asking how do we insure that immigrant communities and communities of color are fully represented in the political process?

With the primary election with Justice Gonzalez, there’s evidence of a history of racially polarized voting in Washington State.

It underscores the point of why it’s important to vote and, through the legislation process, figuring out the best mechanisms that encourages participation. With the Washington voting rights act, the state could switch to district-based voting to encourage voter turnout.

What issues are OneAmerica most concerned about in this election year?

Immigrant youth at a rally for immigration reform organized by OneAmerica (Photo by Roxana Norouzi)

One issue that matters a lot is comprehensive immigration reform.

Some of the questions we are asking is if there is a path to comprehensive immigration reform in the next four years?

What happens with deferred action for childhood arrivals and the program to temporarily legalize their status in the next four years?

In Washington State, will immigrants continue to have access to driver’s licenses?

There’s also the broader issue of the economy. Immigrants, just like everyone else, are being thoroughly impacted by the recession and slow recovery.

Why did OneAmerica decide to endorse Referendum 74?

OneAmerica has endorsed Ref-74, which would uphold what the legislature did to legalize same-sex marriage. We think that it’s compatible with our organization’s vision and recognizing the dignity of LGBT immigrants in our own community.

It’s important to acknowledge what stands at the core of both movements, which is a focus on inclusivity, equity and diversity. It’s time to recognize and acknowledge each other’s movements in the broader community.

In some ways immigrant rights and the LGBT movement have worked on parallel tracks, but there’s also been mutual support for what matters. This decision to endorse a yes vote is really about building broader alliances and expressing our core focus on human dignity and human rights. It’s also important to acknowledge LGBT immigrants who are often overlooked, marginalized and face their own challenges.

How is the landscape changing for immigrant rights in Seattle?

Magdaleno Rose-Avila is at the helm of the new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. (Photo from the UW Center for Human Rights)

One thing I’m excited about is that the city council recently created the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

It’s an important step forward to recognize the contributions and roles of immigrants and the diverse needs of the community.

And I’m very excited to work with the city to creatively and effectively meet the needs of the community. We hope that same vision can be replicated in other cities across Washington state.

We are also interested in digging more deeply into issues related to education in the Seattle Public Schools. We are working with schools and allies to make sure all students’ needs are fully addressed.

What excites you about working at OneAmerica?

What’s important is that coming into OneAmerica, I’ve been really impressed and excited about the quality of work and engagement of volunteers to reach literally thousand of voters. People are making phone calls every day, calling voters, urging them to vote and getting pledges.

What drew me to OneAmerica is the strong background in organizing across the immigrant community. There’s an incredible commitment to this community organizing so that immigrants can shape their own future.


This post was produced with support from CityClub. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CityClub.

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