Commerce announces statewide work group on immigrant workforce and employers

Keep Washington Working group to research, develop strategies and recommended approaches to ensure state economy continues to benefit from diverse workforce and immigrant-owned businesses

OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington State Department of Commerce today announced a 17-member statewide work group formed in response to the 2019 Keep Washington Working Act addressing statewide policy on supporting Washington’s economy and immigrants’ role in the workplace.

Members include representatives of geographically diverse immigrant advocacy groups, professional associations representing business, labor organizations with a statewide presence, agriculture and immigrant legal interests, faith-based community nonprofit organizations, legal advocacy groups focusing on immigration and criminal justice, academic institutions and law enforcement. The first Keep Washington Working group members appointed to three-year terms are:

Paula Arno Martinez, Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs
Paul Benz, Faith Action Network
Carino Barragan, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
Malou Chavez, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Sam Cho, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs
Bre Elsey, Washington State Farm Bureau
Alex Galarza, Northwest Justice Project
Antonio Ginatta, Columbia Legal Services
Eric Gonzalez, ACLU
Julia Gorton, Washington Hospitality Association
Karen Lewis, Washington State University
Victoria Mena, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo
Monserrat Padilla, Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network
Sandra Rodarte, Latino Civic Alliance
Kristin Kershaw Snapp, Washington State Fruit Tree Association
Rich Stolz, OneAmerica
Keelcy Perez Woolley, Tableau

“Washington is blessed to have many exceptionally talented people here on visas. Unfortunately, their spouses, also with skills needed in many professions and key industries, often can’t get work permits even though employers have job openings,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman. “The work group will be exploring issues like this and looking at how we can make sure our state is capturing the full potential of our entire workforce.”

“When over 16% of a state’s workforce is made up of immigrants, there’s no denying we need these hardworking men and women,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, who sponsored the companion bill in the House. “The Keep Washington Working Act ensures that we uphold our values of diversity, fairness, equality and opportunity by protecting our workers from harassment and abuse, so they can continue contributing to the growth of our economy and the enrichment of our culture.”

“Washington’s employers rely on a diverse workforce that includes nearly one million immigrants,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “These workers, as well as the nearly 15% of our state’s business owners who were born outside of this country, are part of the fiber that strengthens communities from east to west, in urban and rural areas.”

The work group will report back to the legislature annually on their work, which will focus on:

  • Developing strategies with private sector businesses, labor, and immigrant advocacy organizations to support current and future industries across the state;
  • Conducting research on methods to strengthen career pathways for immigrants and create and enhance partnerships with projected growth industries;
  • Supporting business and agriculture leadership, civic groups, government, and immigrant advocacy organizations in a statewide effort to provide predictability and stability to the workforce in the agriculture industry; and
  • Recommending approaches to improve Washington’s ability to attract and retain immigrant business owners that provide new business and trade opportunities.

The group is expected to meet at least four times a year in locations around the state and report status and meeting minutes to Commerce and the public. A chair will be selected by the members of the work group and an annual report will be submitted to the legislature each year by the Department of Commerce.


Contact: Penny Thomas, Commerce Communications, (206) 256-6106

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