Immigrant Family Institute

The Immigrant Family Institute is no longer in operation. Learn more about our newest initiative, the Immigrant Safety and Action Network here.

The Immigrant Family Institute (IFI) was a program that brought together youth from immigrant families, their parents/guardians/caregivers, and Seattle police officers to learn from each other. The program had focused on immigrant families that have been or could be impacted by the juvenile justice system and frontline police officers who interact regularly with the public. IFI provided support for families to be able to attend each program session.


Program Structure

Participants met regularly for two to four hours. Facilitators/educators from the community led each session, featured discussion topics to provide many opportunities for group- and self-learning. The program included resources to ensure full participation, including:

  • Meals and transportation support for in-person sessions
  • Equipment and services for virtual sessions
  • Interpretation services



The program accommodated 10-15 immigrant families with youth aged 10-14 and their parents/guardians and 8-12 Seattle Police Department officers.



The law enforcement thinktank Police Executive Research Foundation published a report featuring the award-winning Immigrant Family Institute (IFI). The document titled, "Strengthening Relationships between Police and Immigrant Communities in a Complex Political Environment: Multicultural Outreach and Engagement Programs for Police Agencies" showcases how IFI helps build trust and break down barriers between immigrant and refugee families and police officers. Learn more about PERF's findings, as well as SPD's other immigrant-focused outreach activities here:

In January 2022, the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) also highlighted Immigrant Family Institute in their Community Policing Dispatch blog: An Innovative Program Helps Build Relationships with New Immigrants.

IFI was built off the award-winning success of the 2014 Refugee Women's Institute. IFI aims to provide leadership skills to immigrant boys and girls aged 10-14 who have been or are likely to be impacted by the juvenile justice system. The program also sought to empower their parents to self-advocate and navigate city, legal, and education systems. IFI also helped Seattle Police Department officers be more culturally responsive in serving immigrant youth of color and their families.



The Immigrant Family Institute Core Team had included:

  • Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Community Outreach and Program Specialist Luanda Hassan Arai
  • Seattle Police Department Community Policing Division Sergeant Heidi Tuttle
  • Seattle Police Department Race and Social Justice Coordinator Martin Welte
  • Seattle Police Department Administrative Specialist Monica Osborn
  • Assistant Professor of Social Work at Seattle University Amelia Derr
  • Huayruro Co-founder and Peacemaking Circle/Restorative Justice Facilitator Jabali Stewart

A group of multiracial young people sitting in the councilmember seats in Seattle City Council Chambers. Some youths are in humorous poses.


Refugee Women's Institute

On September 6, 2014, the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) launched the Refugee Women’s Institute (RWI). It was an innovative pilot program designed to build understanding and trust between refugee communities in Seattle and the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The institute, the first of its kind in the nation, had aimed to build a grassroots network of refugee women leaders while increasing the cultural competency of the female officers who participate. RWI then turned into the Immigrant Family Institute, which is now also no longer in operation.


How RWI Came About

OIRA developed RWI in direct response to concerns raised by refugee and immigrant families during a series of extensive outreach conversations held in 2012 as part of the Safe Communities campaign. OIRA facilitated 30 "kitchen table" discussions with women from specific refugee and immigrant communities to gain feedback in how the police department could address neighborhood safety concerns.

Refugee and immigrant residents raised such issues as language barriers and the need for interpretation and translation of resources. They also talked about the lack of information about valuable services, including 911 emergency calls. Rising to the top was a desire to build mutual trust and understanding. Refugee women were the program's first cohort for leadership development since they are one of the most vulnerable populations in Seattle's refugee communities.


How RWI Worked

OIRA Policy, Programs, and Strategy Lead Sahar Fathi developed the program with support from members of the Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission, experts on curriculum development and trauma, plus refugee women themselves, some of whom are participating in the inaugural sessions. The Seattle Police Foundation provided additional program support.

On each Saturday of the 8-week program, 20 refugee women participants were paired up with mentors from SPD and participated in carefully designed discussions to help the women overcome the fear and mistrust that often act as a barrier to community participation. The curriculum was intended to help participants confront complicated and sensitive issues in a safe environment, as many refugee women experience a lack of resources and fear of past oppressive governments.

The program also included information on how to access City programs and services, like low-income utility assistance, as well as unique opportunities, such as a tour of a 911 emergency call center.

A multiracial group of Refugee Women's Institute members are standing in a line facing you and smiling. Two of the women are wearing hijabs.

In order to make RWI as accessible as possible, the program provided childcare, bus tickets, meals, and a small scholarship. The program also provided interpreters to ensure complete understanding of difficult subject matter. Participants in the inaugural program originally came from six countries: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burma, and Bhutan.

"The Refugee Women’s Institute helped reduce barriers to inclusion for refugee women who, after having overcome so many challenges in their lives, took another proactive step toward contributing fully and becoming leaders in our communities," said OIRA Director Cuc Vu. "Understanding takes work, and trust must be earned. We applaud the bravery and leadership showed by the refugee participants and police officers who were willing to build bridges that have reaped benefits for all of us."


Sharing and Evaluating RWI

SPD Sergeant Adrian Diaz poses with an Immigrant Family Institute graduate youth. Both are smiling.Police officers were encouraged to develop a presentation for their SPD colleagues on what they learned and how it could be applied in their day-to-day work while each refugee woman participant made a presentation in her community.

The program’s success was measured by a demonstrated increase in self-confidence and knowledge of city systems and processes, and increased trust in the police department. Each participant was extensively interviewed by the instructor, monitored for participation and engagement, and then evaluated six months and one year after the program ends.


RWI Results

RWI was successful in reaching its goals. SPD employees and refugees reported knowing more refugees, knowing more about refugees, and understanding the available resources for working together in the future. The data indicated that refugee participants finished RWI feeling more comfortable calling 911, calling the police, and accessing a bevy of City services. The data confirm that most of the improvements were stable over time following the conclusion of RWI. The RWI team got a clearer data profile of the needs and desires of refugee participants and gained a better grasp of the misunderstandings that can lead to communication failures between refugees and officers.

RWI then became the Immigrant Family Institute.


RWI Training Video

During RWI, refugee and immigrant residents talked about the lack of information about valuable services, including 911 emergency calls. This video offers information about several topics around public safety, including when and how to call 911, domestic violence issues, identifying and reporting wage theft, and knowing your rights.

Immigrant and Refugee Affairs

Hamdi Mohamed, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 1616, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94573, Seattle, WA, 98124
Phone: (206) 727-8515

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The mission of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs is to improve the lives of Seattle’s immigrant and refugee communities by engaging them in decisions about the City of Seattle’s future and improving the City’s programs and services to meet the needs of all constituents.