On Tuesday, September 23, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Cuc Vu as director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA).
Vu came to the United States with her family in 1975 as a refugee of the Vietnam War. She described barely making it through the gates of Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon as U.S. troops were evacuating Vietnamese refugees on the last day of the war.
“Cuc’s compelling background as a refugee of the Vietnam War, immigrant upbringing, and experience working on immigrant and refugee affairs issues makes her the ideal director to help the immigrant and refugee communities achieve success,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell in a statement. “Her previous experience in leading national and local immigrant rights groups and establishing the first national immigrant rights coalition will be invaluable as she engages with city departments to empower refugees and immigrants to advance their priorities.”
Vu earned an undergraduate degree at Pomona College and a graduate degree as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Vu most recently served as the first Chief Diversity Officer for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and has also worked at SEIU, AFL-CIO and the U.S. Department of Labor. She was selected to helm OIRA by Mayor Ed Murray in July.
Vu said a major goal as OIRA director is to implement the mayor’s five point plan to:
1. Expand citizenship programs and services.
2. Create career pathways through ESL and computer training for the most limited English-proficient immigrants and refugees.
3. Improve access to City programs, services and resources through ethnic media engagement.
4. Enhance public safety for immigrant and refugee communities through a Refugee Women’s Institute, where emerging refugee women leaders will learn to use City services to advocate for themselves, their families and their communities.
5. Implement a language access program to improve the City’s ability to engage its immigrant and refugee residents.
“Overall, OIRA’s Five Point Plan addresses many of the needs in Seattle’s refugee and immigrant communities,” Vu said in a statement. “In addition, I believe that housing and homelessness, transportation, and unemployment are additional and significant issues for immigrant and refugee communities. Fewer immigrant and refugee families are able to afford to live in the Seattle area. Those who do are disproportionately in low-income housing. Affordable housing must be part of the City’s development plans.”
She also described a need for reliable and affordable infrastructure to connect immigrant and refugee families to their homes and jobs, among other challenges.
“Immigrant and refugee communities also struggle with high levels of unemployment and underemployment,” Vu said. “Current investments in the ELL and citizenship initiatives will begin to target this problem, but there is considerable more work to do. For example, efforts to improve workforce equity need to consider the most vulnerable members of the labor market—those who have very limited English proficiency, and those who have limited access to on-line job portals.”
OIRA was created by the City Council in 2012 to recognize the importance and need for a strong relationship between the City of Seattle Government and the Immigrant and Refugee communities which it serves. Immigrants account for nearly one-fifth of all Seattleites, and approximately one-third of children in Seattle are in immigrant families.