Five questions with Bookda Gheisar, Immigrant and Refugee Policy Analyst

1. Why did you start in your role with King County?

I am a social worker by training and passion, so my entire career has been focused on fighting poverty, eliminating barriers that people of color experience in accessing services, and allowing for voices who are not usually present at the table to become heard and to influence policymakers.

The specific way that I carry out this mission has shifted from time to time, because social work is a broad field, so I have looked at emergent issues within that umbrella. It was clear to me during the presidential campaign, when we saw a huge and visible increase in hate and bias around the country that I wanted to bring my energy and talent to immigration policy and organizing. I am lucky to have been hired by King County to create this position and the strategy that goes along with it. I am grateful to have a chance to make a difference and proud to support a leader who shares a positive vision for democracy and freedom for all.

2. What do you do in your role?

Some of the top priorities for my role in the coming months are funding local organizations, creating a refugee and immigrant commission, supporting employees and departments to do this work and collaborating with other communities.

The Executive and Council together approved funding for organizations that are supporting immigrant and refugee communities during this very challenging time. We’ll be working over the next few months to identify organizations to award this funding to so that we can support building a powerful hub in Washington State. We’ll also be creating a first ever immigrant and refugee commission to help bring the voices, experiences, and stories that are often not visible and marginalized to our leaders in the County.

I am looking forward to also helping employees and departments understand how they can be prepared and equipped in working with immigrant and refugee community members during these challenging times, and helping King County to partner with the regional cities, officials, and communities to share our experiences and help support other communities.

3. Why did you choose this field as your career?

Part of it was because of my personal background. I was 18 years old when I came here from Iran in 1980, during the revolution. I went to college and became interested in social work. At a personal level, I was aware of what being marginalized meant.

But my training and work helped me understand how systems and policies make it very difficult for people who are already marginalized to join society effectively and to be set up for success.

Fighting oppression and racism is a commitment that drives my life. I choose to send my kids to diverse schools. I choose to live in a diverse community. And why here in King County? Because I admire the commitment to social justice. I am impressed with the ESJ strategic plan, and I am impressed with the Executive’s commitment to social justice efforts.

4. What is the biggest challenge of your job?

The biggest challenge is this – deportations and detention are up for people with no criminal background by 360% in King County.  There has been an increase in hate crimes and almost every day I hear painful stories of bigotry. The need for intervention is so big and we don’t have a minute to waste.  And we will need a lot of resources for this work.

5. What do you enjoy most about your work?

I really enjoy the people I work with and meet in our building. It’s quite telling that King County employs some of the smartest, brightest, most talented people with a commitment to equity and social justice. This shows the County’s commitment to these values.