Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz Proposes City Commission for Immigrants and Refugees

“There is a growing awareness that we have many different communities of new Portlanders," says Fritz.

Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz wants the city to create a New Portlander Policy Commission to advocate for Portland's immigrant and refugee populations.

The move would give more power to an existing volunteer group dedicated to helping Portland's immigrants and refugees. The new commission also would join the city's volunteer Human Rights Commission in promoting equity and justice for marginalized Portlanders.

"There is a growing awareness that we have many different communities of new Portlanders, including refugee and immigrant communities," says Fritz, adding that those communities are eager to take part in decision-making in the city.

The committee—up for consideration by the City Council on Thursday afternoon—grows out of an effort Fritz launched in 2011 that established a less formal policy council with similar advocacy goals.

For several years, that council has worked with mutual assistance associations and community-based organizations to build programming that will make city services valuable and applicable to refugee and immigrant populations.

Recently, in partnership with the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, the council has helped organize transportable playgrounds for children in outer Southeast Portland neighborhoods, where many immigrants and refugees live.

The council formed a strategic plan in 2014, which emphasized its appeal for a permanent commission to advise the city on all policy.

By moving toward the designation of a commission, the leadership of the New Portlander Policy Council hopes to have more say in city decisions.

"It's pretty much voluntary for the bureaus to listen to us right now, even though it's something the city really finds important," says Linda Castillo, co-chair of the New Portlander Policy Council. "This ties up the loose ends, creating a formalized structure that leads us toward equity, inclusion and diversity."

The proposed commission would be made up of 25 voting members appointed by the City Council to represent the broad variety of ethnicities, languages, and religions in Portland, where one in five people are foreign-born.

City staff would also sit on the commission as non-voting members.

The City Council will review this proposal Thursday, and vote on the formation of a commission at its June 8 meeting. The city has set aside $86,000 to support the commission in its first year.

"There is a diverse background of new Portlanders," Castillo said. "We have an opportunity to create a reflection of that community in city government."

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