OneAmerica Youth - Revitalizing the Immigrant Rights Movement

Youth are an increasingly important part of our community. As Washington State’s largest immigrant advocacy organization, OneAmerica knows this. Between 2000 and 2010, the immigrant population in Washington increased by 44.2 percent. South King County alone is now home to almost 20,000 English language learner (ELL) students who comprise 17 percent of the region’s students. OneAmerica’s members (about 2,500 statewide) have consistently identified their children’s education as a major concern.

OneAmerica witnesses these demographic changes firsthand.  Several years ago, OneAmerica staff noticed that the same young folks were coming out repeatedly to volunteer for our events. They were seeking volunteer opportunities, a sense of belonging in the Seattle community, and a connection to a larger movement that recognized immigrant youth as valuable, smart and powerful. Inspired by their motivation, we saw an urgent need to organize and work with the youth to develop their skills. Our Community Organizers began visiting youth at local high schools and got to know the students, as well as their teachers, counselors and principals. The idea for our Youth Program came about when the youth told us they were interested in working with OneAmerica while also maintaining their independent school and club identity. This is how OneAmerica’s Youth Program was born.

OneAmerica’s Youth Program engages high school students across Seattle and the Puget Sound region (as well as other parts of the state) in our work to advance the fundamental principles of democracy and justice at the local, state and national levels by building power within immigrant communities. Youth first get involved with OneAmerica at their schools through our civic engagement curriculum. This leads to opportunities for volunteering and taking action through Youth Action Squads. Youth Action Squads are a network of school-based youth groups which provide a space where immigrant youth can come together, develop leadership and career skills, engage with peers, have a positive impact on the community, and communicate effectively to accomplish goals together.

Some of the Youth Program’s major accomplishments over the past several years include:

  • The Youth Program officially launched in 2010 with one active group at Chief Sealth High School. Since then, it has grown to include partnerships with 15 different schools, engaging 425 students in 2012.
  • More than 200 youth attended Immigrants Day at the Capitol in February to participate in a training for immigrants from across the state; meet with legislators; and tell their personal stories and share the issues that are most important to them.
  • In April 2013, over 220 immigrants – mostly Youth Program participants – from across Washington State traveled to Olympia for committee meetings on the Washington State DREAM Act.  When the meetings were cancelled by their chairs, students showed up and gave testimony anyway for an audience of advocates and the media, demonstrating enthusiastic commitment to the issue they were supporting.
  • Earlier this year, OneAmerica Youth members spoke at a Federal Way School Board meeting to persuade school board members to pass a resolution in support of the DREAM Act.
  • In 2011, OneAmerica Youth gave live televised testimony during the Washington State redistricting process, winning recognition and praise from the commissioners. Ultimately OneAmerica’s campaign helped secure the creation of a new majority-minority district.
  • Youth members raised funds for OneAmerica through a successful tamale sale, taking responsibility for planning, cooking and selling tamales.
  • At every opportunity, OneAmerica youth exhibit courage as they tell their stories in public and serve as media spokespeople in service to the cause of immigrants’ rights.

To evaluate the success of our Youth Program, we look at how many schools agree to partner with us; how many participants join each Youth Action Squad; and how many youth participate in our events and outreach activities. We also take into consideration what skills our youth are able to develop, what leadership roles they agree to take on as OneAmerica volunteers, and what projects they propose and complete with OneAmerica’s support. Finally, we pay attention to how local media, leaders, and institutions recognize and engage with immigrant youth, and how this dynamic changes over time as youth develop leadership skills and speak up for their own concerns.

The Youth Program emphasizes the importance of participation in the political process, including voting and communication with decision-makers. This is why hundreds of youth have participated in OneAmerica’s campaigns to get out the immigrant vote, as well as visiting their local and state legislators to share their stories and values.

Responsibility for contributing to the common good motivates OneAmerica youth to take steps to keep the momentum of the immigrant rights movement strong.

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