The Seattle Police Department (SPD)’s Immigrant Family Institute (IFI) program is an eight-week series of sessions held with male immigrant youth of color likely to have been impacted by the criminal justice system, their parents, and SPD officers. The program, which is intended to help educate parents, provide leadership skills to the youths, and help train SPD officers to be more culturally competent in serving immigrants and refugees, concluded on May 13.
Of the 42 participating family members, many were immigrants, coming from Cambodia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico and Somalia. They and 12 officers met once per week in the Central District for discussions and workshops facilitated by SPD officer Martin Welte, Seattle University social worker Amelia Seraphia Derr, and Jabali Stewart, director of Intercultural Affairs at The Bush School.
The sessions focused on breaking down stereotypes, educating the families about public safety issues, the City, educational and legal systems.
“Our intention was to bring disparate groups together to strengthen their ability to be advocates for themselves and each other,” said Seattle University professor Derr, quoted in a statement from the City of Seattle. “IFI has been a powerful example of the importance of human relationships in a climate of fear and uncertainty.”
The IFI program was developed following the similar successful Refugee Women’s Institute (RWI), which was launched by the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in 2014 and was designed to increase understanding between refugee women and the SPD. That program was the first of its kind in the nation, and met its goals of increasing SPD understanding of and acquaintance with refugees, as well as refugee women’s confidence in contacting SPD and accessing City services.
“When our office considered the next step for RWI, we quickly recognized the need to ensure that kids from immigrant families also benefited from bridge-building conversations,” said OIRA director Cuc Vu, herself a refugee from Vietnam, in a statement from the City.
At an event at City Hall celebrating the conclusion of the IFI program, participant Abdullahi Farah said his grades got better after being in the program for a few weeks.
SPD officer Welte, who also serves as coordinator for the SPD Race and Social Justice Initiative, said the program was helpful in his work. “It has allowed me to experience something that in 28 years of service I have not: the ability to meet, interact, learn, embrace and most importantly, feel the humanity of people far too often marginalized and made invisible,” he said in a statement from the City.
The FI facilitators and organizers are now evaluating the program’s effects on the participants, and preparing for the next IFI cohort, that is expected to start next year.