Immigrants and Refugees

  • America has given refuge to millions of people seeking refuge.   Except those of pure Native American origin, every one of us is of immigrant descent.  
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  

(from the base of the Statue of Liberty)   

  • Many refugee families in Spokane were forced to leave their homeland because of war, political strife and violence.  Spokane's World Relief organization helps nearly 500 refugees rebuild their lives here each year.  It takes up to 2 years for them to be processed as they go through interviews, medical checks, very strict security and background checks.  World Relief is currently helping refugees from Syria.  (KREM-TV news, September 20, 2015) 

  • "We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us once were foreigners....and for many, America continues to be a land of dreams.  I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants...Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our 'neighbors' and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal solidarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this." 

    "Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation."   (Pope Francis' address to Congress, September 24, 2015)

  • Our Federal government has not been committed to assistance.  Countries are prohibited under international law from returning refugees to persecution, but they are not required to take them in. 

  • The immigration debate in the United States has focused disproportionately on illegal immigration, crime and the plight of poor immigrants.  As a result, many immigrants are bullied and verbally abused within their new communities.  Little attention has been paid to the positive impact of immigration and how immigrants affect their local economies.  Now, the government is beginning to respond with compassion to illegal immigrants who have a long history in the U.S., by streamlining the legal immigration system and providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. 

  • NOTE:  George Mason University has launched the Institute for Immigration Research to use census data to build a national map pinpointing self-employed immigrants, track graduate students, and measure their economic impact.

  • A Lesson from Germany.  German police have arrested a prominent Islamic extremist preacher, accusing him of supporting a foreign terrorist group.  It is the latest sign that Germany is grappling with a growing threat from radical Islam.  Now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Germany is reaching its limit for accepting Mideast refugees.  Germany has taken in about 1 million people who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS.  Time magazine just named Merkel Person of the Year for her open-door policy, quoting her as saying, “I’m surprised at how faint-hearted we sometimes are, and how quickly we lose courage.” 

    However, now the Washington Post reports Merkel saying, “Multiculturalism is a sham that has utterly failed.  “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies.  Refugees need to assimilate into German culture, respect the country’s laws, and contribute to their communities."    (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Chancellor of the Free World,” Person of the Year, Time Magazine, "Islamic Threat," CBN News, December 2015) 
  • In 2013, 15,454 people in Spokane County were not U.S. citizens, and 11,242 were naturalized.  (2013 Spokane Community Indicators, EWU )

  • About 60 million refugees have been made homeless from conflicts in the Middle East, including the way in Syria.  The crisis of war and the millions of people fleeing their homes has reached levels unprecedented since World War II.

    "September 11th changed the world.  Our deepest fears now haunt us.  Yet, I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.  As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, 'As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore,'" said California Rep. Barbara Lee.   It is much more difficult to wage peace than to wage war.  ('Waging war in Mideast has failed," by Amy Goodman, executive producer of Democrary Now!, November 6, 2015) 

  • Immigrants are more likely than native citizens to start their own businesses, according to research.  Five percent of naturalized citizens are self-employed compared with just 3.7 percent of native-born Americans. (Research at the Immigrant Learning Center in Massachusetts) 

  • More than a quarter of all biotech companies had at least one immigrant founder.  In Boston, New York City and Philadelphia, immigrants started 40% of all transportation companies--and immigrants are not 40% of the population.  (Research at the  Immigrant Learning Center in Massachusetts)
What You Can Do
  • Get acquainted with our neighbors from different countries.  Build friendships around sharing each others’ culture.  As we learn from each other, we will see that all people want the same things for themselves and their families—safety, health and opportunity.   
  • Volunteer to work directly with community groups to aid refugees in adapting to life in Spokane. 

  • Offer to teach English to those from foreign countries.  Interpret, translate, and assist with housing, schools, and health care; and encourage them to be independent and self-reliant.  
  • Remember - Language and culture barriers can be broken down by universal things, such as music and love. 

  • Become a volunteer indexer with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project.   The United States is a nation of immigrant families.  Records that document the immigration and naturalization of our ancestors include crew and passenger lists, immigration and border crossing records, passports, and citizenship and naturalization documents.  Many of these documents are not yet indexed, making individuals and families difficult to find.  Help make more records searchable online.  Join hundreds of thousands of volunteers in a community effort to make more of these records searchable online, so everyone can find their ancestors.  Indexing is a fun challenge that rewards both the volunteer and the future researcher.  No special skills or fixed time commitments are required.  Volunteer when you can. Register, sign in, and follow a few simple steps.  Help families discover the stories of their ancestors.  For more information, go to
Local Organizations
Additional Resources


Ben Cabildo, Director
African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American Business & Professional Association
The overall mission of AHANA is to improve the economic status and enhance the quality of life of the AHANA communities through the development of business and employment opportunities.

Catholic Charities
12 E. 5th Avenue
Spokane, WA
(509) 455-6191
Assistance with citizenship and residency requirements and applications

1-888-201-1014 toll free
1-888-201-9737 TDD
1-888-387-7111 People age 60 and over
Free legal services for low-income people in non-criminal matters.
Coordinated legal education, advice, and referral system. A program of the Northwest Justice Project

Hate Incident Response Team of Spokane (HIRTS)
Check Line at (509) 456-2233.
PO Box 222, Spokane, WA 99210-0222
HIRTS Help Line: (509) 459-3626
An all-volunteer organization committed to providing support for victims of hate incidents.
Support of hate victims in crisis. To report a hate crime, call the Spokane Police Department Crime

Immigration Issues

         Office of Washington Senator Maria Cantwell

         Constituent Services Washington, DC
         717 Hart Senate Office Building
         Washington, DC 20510
         (202) 224-3441
Constituent Services Spokane
920 W. Riverside, Suite 697
Spokane, WA 99210
(509) 353-2507
Interpreter Services
Larry Valadez

Odyssey World International Education Services
227 E Sprague
Spokane, WA
Improve the lives of Spokane’s local refugee and low-income families. 
OWI also volunteers abroad at select children’s homes in Kenya and Tanzania. 

Spokane International Translation

104 S. Freya (Tapio Center)
Spokane, WA
(509) 327-8064
They provide oral or written interpreters and translations of 47 languages.  They serve the legal, medical and business community, offering to translate documents and providing interpreters.  They also aid in the communication process between people from a foreign country and the manner in which the United States functions. 

Spokane School District 82 - Equity Office

Vickie Countryman, Director
(509) 354-5953

Spokane Task Force on Human Relations

Kristine M. Reeves, Board President
(509) 323.3667 or
The Spokane Regional Task Force on Human Relations exists to address issues of racial and cultural discrimination by learning, action, leadership, and partnership within the Spokane community. A public non-profit organization, the SRTFHR is comprised of members from five major facets of the Spokane community. Our members come from a variety of areas within the faith, non-profit, education, government, and business communities in the Spokane region.

Washington Human Rights Commission

Spokane District Office
Rock Point Plaza III
1330 N. Washington St., Suite 2460
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 568-3196
The Mission of the Washington State Human Rights Commission is to eliminate and prevent discrimination through the fair application of the law, the efficient use of resources, and the establishment of partnerships with the community.

World Relief of Spokane

1522 N. Washington, Suite 204
Spokane, WA  99201
(509) 484-9829
Refugee and immigrant services, including resettlement, employment, citizenship classes, etc.