Igor Anisimov came from Ukraine to escape persecution for his religion and political views. Shah Perai came from Afghanistan to escape an abusive husband. Nedel Klaib came from Syria to escape the constant threat of war.
Anisimov now owns a popular coffee shop. Perai’s four sons each earn 4.0 grade-point averages. Klaib is close to earning a veterinarian certification to begin his career in the U.S.
And all three of them met the governor of Washington on Friday.
In a series of stops throughout the city, Gov. Jay Inslee heard from refugees, the local Marshallese Islander community, students concerned with gun violence in schools and students with a passion for hands-on learning.
“I will take your stories and share them with everyone I can,” he told the refugees, all of them former clients of World Relief Spokane. He also echoed a letter he wrote to the Department of State in April decrying the federal government’s cap on refugees.
The Spokane World Relief group has integrated 10,000 refugees into Spokane, marking its 26th year. The group helps refugees navigate housing, health insurance and employment.
“When we rescue people from Bangladesh and Syria and other places, we’re not just rescuing individual people or families,” Inslee said. “We’re rescuing our own values in America.”
Klaib spoke through a translator and said it was a special experience to meet someone in Inslee’s position.
“It’s a great feeling to know that there’s someone who’s actually standing for us,” he said.
Speaking about gun violence
Leaving World Relief’s headquarters, Inslee headed to Westminster Congregational Church to meet with students from the Spokane Area Student Council Against Gun Violence, whose members still have last week’s high school walkout and rally fresh on their minds. Some Washington state lawmakers also attended the discussion, including Sen. Andy Billig and Rep. Marcus Riccelli, both Democrats representing Spokane.
Students proposed raising the legal age of buying semi-automatic weapons to 21 and starting mental health screenings for purchase of assault rifles. They also discussed holding parents legally accountable for children who gain access to guns and use them to harm themselves or others.
Caroline Slater, a junior at Lewis and Clark High School, was one of the students proposing ideas for gun law reforms.
“I would really like to see teachers being given clear procedures, ways to deal with children who may have several traumas at home,” Slater told Inslee. “I think every teacher needs to know what’s going on with each student to be able to really help them to the best of their ability and give them the attention that they need so that any troubled student isn’t going to come to a dramatic conclusion.”
Inslee said he was impressed with the impatience of youth in their effort to change laws.
“Congress and the Legislature should act. They should not be frozen,” he said. “These kids should not have to worry about going to school and being safe.”
“You don’t have to wait to vote to be politically active,” Inslee told the students.
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