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Joe Parisi

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi on Thursday describes proposals to aid local immigrants seeking citizenship.

Dane County will establish a fund to help county residents apply for citizenship and will create a new position to help immigrants better access services available to them, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Thursday.

The Immigration Assistance Fund would be privately administered by an organization to be chosen through a competitive process, and would start with $75,000 in seed money from the county, Parisi said.

The new immigrant affairs specialist, within the county Office of Equity and Inclusion, would provide support to organizations that help immigrants. Parisi called the job an “ombudsman” helping to direct immigrants toward helpful resources.

Parisi called the measures “concrete action” on the county’s previously stated support for its immigrants, and a “nuts and bolts” approach to addressing a need.

Thousands of immigrants in Dane County are eligible for citizenship but don’t have the resources to navigate the process, he said.

“These steps will help our neighbors on the path to becoming citizens, and thus further strengthen our community,” Parisi said.

He also cited the importance of immigrants to the county’s fast-growing economy, in sectors as diverse as dairy farming and technology.

“This is something that we’re doing because it’s the right thing to do on a human level and because it’s the right thing to do for our local economy,” Parisi said.

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Because the measures will require an amendment to the 2017 county budget, they have to be approved by the County Board. The amendment will be introduced at next week’s County Board meeting, Parisi said, and could take a month to be approved.

The immigration affairs specialist addition is budget-neutral, because the opening is being transferred from another county department, said Parisi spokeswoman Stephanie Miller. The cost of the position’s salary and benefits is $75,169.

“What we’ve seen in the last few weeks as a result of President Trump’s orders and the uptick in (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) activity is people being overrun with phone calls, be it immigration attorneys or community-based organizations with people who are afraid,” Parisi said. “These are our neighbors, and they’re living in fear. They need our help, they need our assistance gaining their path to citizenship.”

The Immigration Assistance Fund, Parisi said, would be sustained beyond the county’s $75,000 investment through business and philanthropic donations.

Parisi said he hasn’t directly solicited donations from groups yet, but said many in the community have been asking how they can help.

The money, Parisi said, would help cover expenses immigrants encounter on their path to citizenship, such as those related to the citizenship application process, and legal expenses.

While most Americans are the descendants of immigrants, today’s immigrants are often the targets of hostility, Parisi said, after describing the immigrant experience of his grandparents, who arrived here from a small town in Sicily.

“Hostility being directed toward our immigrants is not fair,” Parisi said. “It is not right, and it is not a reflection of the values of our community.”

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