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Board of Supervisors Approves the Creation of the Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs


The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted (3-2) to approve the creation of theOffice of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) paving the way for a more “Welcoming” County. The initiative, co-sponsored by Chair Nathan Fletcher and Vice Chair Nora Vargas will establish an office that will become the County’s central hub of services and resources for immigrants and refugees.

The OIRA’s role will be to remain connected to the community, convening stakeholders to ensure that the services that are offeredare what the community needs, and when there are gaps, informing the Board of the policy changes that need to occur to overcome challenges. OIRA will also partner with the Public Defender’s Office of Assigned Counsel to create a link for referrals to the Board-CreatedImmigrant Rights Legal Defense Program for detained immigrants facing deportation and can help connect individuals to trusted legal resources in the community. The County’s Chief Administrative Officer previously earmarked $750,000 in the proposed Fiscal Year2021-2022 Budget. With the approval this policy will provide an additional $2 million in funding and five full time employees.

“I ran unabashedly as a supporter of our immigrant communities and the creation of an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.I am thrilled we were finally able to bring this forward and I am excited to get it up and running,” said Chair Fletcher. “The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs is going to help so many individuals and families, it will be a great success.”
According to the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, more than 20% of San Diegans were born in other countries and speak 68different languages. Immigrants and refugees have a set of unique needs related to their transition into a new community.

“I have been advocating for immigrant rights for over 20 years and I am so proud of co-docketing this initiative today-- this is a huge win for allSan Diegans,” said Vice Chair Nora Vargas. “As an immigrant, I personally know the challenge of navigating a complex system of government in a different language. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs will help us advance and advocate for full active, civic, social, and economic participation of immigrants and refugees in the County of San Diego. As a County we will play a pivotal role in integrating these individuals and families into the community and elevating their economic and cultural contributions.”

Immigration is a policy topic important to both Chair Fletcher and Vice Chair Vargas.

Chair Fletcher, whose father-in-law immigrated to the United States from Mexico, helped fight for deported veterans to be repatriatedand gain citizenship. As a candidate, Chair Fletcher vowed to create an Office of Immigrant Affairs at the County; and soon after taking office he began fighting former President Donald Trump’s failed immigration policies locally. He secured State funding and led the way in partnership with nonprofits to set-up a temporary shelter in his district for families seeking asylum. Earlier this year, Chair Fletcher played a pivotal role in securing shelter at the San Diego Convention Center for unaccompanied childrenseeking asylum, along with Vice Chair Vargas.

As the first immigrant elected to serve in the history of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Vice Chair Vargas has prioritized the establishment of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs as a first step to becoming a more equitable and inclusive County, by helping rebuild trust in immigrant and refugee communities that have been under attack for so long. Vice Chair Vargas has had a long history of advocating for immigrant rights at the national, state, and local level, spanning two decades, including establishing and directing the Office of Immigrant Affairs for the City of Los Angeles, the only office of its kind in the West Coast in the early 2000s. Vice Chair Vargas understands the importance ofensuring immigrants and refugees are integrated as part of our regional fabric, to help build healthier and stronger communities.

The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs aligns with theFramework for the Future of San Diego County.The Framework prioritizes communities and populations in San Diego that have been historically left behind. Through this Framework, Chair Fletcher and his colleagues like Vice Chair Vargas are fighting for:racial justice, health equity, economic opportunity, environmental protection, government transparency, and fundamental changes to county operations.