The Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs worked with community organizations and used 13 languages to survey more than 5,000 local immigrants.
The top need for immigrants residing in Seattle and King County is access to affordable housing, a city of Seattle survey has found. English-language proficiency and the availability of media in their native languages may boost political participation and engagement in their new communities.
About one in five respondents said affordable housing was the most important issue for public officials to address in their communities. And while more than half said they were registered to vote, the survey titled “Seattle Votes” found those who spoke English well had higher political interest and engagement than others. Individuals who had access to political media coverage in their native language were more likely to engage, the survey found.
The Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs conducted the survey of more than 5,000 local immigrants in 2016 in an effort to identify their policy needs and “facilitate their civic incorporation.” It says the data set is one of the country’s largest on the topic.
About 13 percent of the U.S. population, or 40 million people, were born abroad, according to the 2010 Census.
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More than half of the respondents to the survey said they were registered to vote ahead of the last U.S. presidential election, while 31 percent said they were ineligible. The remaining 14 percent said they were eligible but unregistered. For that last group, the voter-registration process was described as too complicated by 57 percent of those with limited English, compared with 38 percent of those with solid command of the language, according to the city’s report.
Respondents to the survey included people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Mexico, China, Philippines, India and other countries. Those from Somalia were the largest group.
Despite lacking English proficiency, many immigrants from Mexico and Vietnam said they felt empowered to make their neighborhoods better, possibly because those groups said they enjoyed better access to ethnic media, according to the report.
Altogether, the greatest share of respondents identified affordable housing as the most important issue for public officials to address (19 percent), beating out jobs (17 percent) and education (13 percent).
But priorities varied by the origin of respondents. The top issue for those who came from Ethiopia was affordable housing, but among those from Somalia, it was education. Among those from Mexico, it was immigration and citizenship. Among Vietnamese immigrants, the top issue was language help, while among Chinese immigrants, it was crime. Among Filipino immigrants, it was jobs.
The city’s report recommends increasing voter registration by helping immigrants become citizens and by engaging potential voters in languages other than English.
The survey was conducted in 13 languages, with help from dozens of community organizations. About 81 percent of “Seattle Votes” respondents used paper forms and about 19 percent completed the survey online.
The city paid consultant Latino Decisions $25,000 to design the questions, create and run the online survey, analyze the results and write the city’s report, a spokesman for the immigrant-affairs office said.