County Supervisors Take New Actions to Address Influx of Refugees, Support Immigrant Residents

News Date

Today the County Board of Supervisors reviewed the progress made by its new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and voted to advance the region’s second “Welcome Center” for immigrants in North County. 

“One out of every five people in our region were born outside the United States, but this is a fact that the County downplayed for a long time. This is about making sure the County is bridging the gap to meet the needs of our diverse communities,” said Supervisor Lawson-Remer, Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “These services help make people more self-sufficient, which ultimately helps our entire region succeed.”

“It’s not right that no specific federal funding has been designated to assist with the current increase of asylum seekers in the region,” Lawson-Remer added. “Migrant shelter service providers are being stretched to their limits, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure Washington is playing its part in fixing this problem.”

The Board of Supervisors established the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in June 2021 to build on existing refugee programs and establish that assisting all community members – regardless of one’s immigration status – is a priority. The diverse make-up of San Diego County’s residents amplifies the need to provide culturally competent community engagement to link immigrant and refugee populations to necessary resources. The office is part of the County’s Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities.

San Diego County is a top destination for refugees, with the largest recipient of refugee arrivals in California behind only Sacramento and Los Angeles. The California State Refugee Programs Bureau designated San Diego County as one of eight refugee-impacted counties, where large populations of refugees reside. 

In its presentation to the Board, staff provided their second annual report on accomplishments and milestones. They presented accomplishments; demographics of the immigrant and refugee population; gaps in services and funding; improvements in program implementation; coordination at the local, State, and federal policy levels; and community engagement activities to ultimately improve life in San Diego County for immigrants and refugees.

The Board also voted to accept funds from a successful County application for a state grant to help establish and operationalize a Welcome Center in North San Diego County, which has a relatively large immigrant population. The Welcome Center, the second in the region after National City, would serve as a hub for services, resources, and information for immigrants and refugees. The $430,529 Local Immigrant Integration and Inclusion Grant was awarded to the County by the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (also known as GO-Biz). Contingent on funding availability, GO-Biz may award additional funding for a second year. 

Since its last update to the Board on August 30, 2022, the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has accomplished the following:

  • Oversaw refugee support services, as well as services specific to refugee families
    • From October 2022 to September 2023, services were provided to over 240 refugees (CalWORKS recipients), which resulted in at least 65 refugees gaining employment.
    • From October 2022 to August 2023, over 200 eligible refugees have received assistance with job-related communication skills and at least 60 eligible refugees have successfully attained employment.
    • Work Readiness Exchange Program provides onsite and e-learning trainings, teaching refugees conflict management, communication strategies, life skills and providing job-related training. From October 2022 to August 2023, there were 512 training participants.
    • Elder-Multicultural Access and Support Services (co-administered with County HHSA, Behavioral Health Services) support older refugees through outreach, advocacy, engagement, and education and also assist with navigation of services, acculturation and helps to reduce participants from isolation. From April 2023 to September 2023, over 345 participants received services.
  • Created and implemented new programing, including Landlord Education, Emotional Wellness and Self Care programs
    • For example, the Landlord Education Program was created to educate landlords by providing an overview of the Afghan refugee resettlement process, income sources, relevant anti-discrimination legislation, and other pertinent information. As of August 2023, over 20 housing industry professionals, including but not limited to landlords, property managers and other organizations have participated.
  • Created the County’s first Welcome Center in National City, a one stop shop for resources and services focused on immigrants and refugees
    • Many newcomers to San Diego County have limited English proficiency, which makes accessing resources, programs and essential services like transportation intimidating and overwhelming. On March 1, 2023, the County’s first Welcome Center opened in National City. The Welcome Center is a place where refugees and immigrants can access information, with over 600 community members served through September 2023. Currently, six community organizations provide resources, services, and basic necessities onsite like health education, nutrition services, and resettlement assistance.
  • Hired multilingual Community Health Workers to serve as trusted messengers and ambassadors in the community
    • Since late July 2023, CHWs have participated in a total of 46 events across the county and connected over 1,000 individuals to programs and services.
  • Applied for and awarded funding to implement new programming
    • First 5 California-Refugee Family Support
    • Refugee Support Services Afghanistan Supplemental Appropriation
    • Refugee Support Services Afghan Services for Older Refugees
    • Ukraine Supplemental Appropriation Act
    • Local Immigrant Integration and Inclusion Grant

Through stakeholder feedback and community surveys, opportunities for improvement were identified around services provided related to computer and technological literacy, after school care for children, information and referral services for health care, job applications, and resume assistance. According to client surveys, information and referrals for behavioral health services were the most underutilized service that can be improved. Strategies for improvement include providing support to English language learners as they look for employment and start work, strengthening connections between employers and refugee job seekers, increasing opportunities for acculturation, and helping to connect refugees with important supportive services and resources.

San Diego immigration and refugee facts:

  • An estimated 22.7 percent (749,110) of the region’s 3.3 million residents are foreign born.
  • An estimated 63.6 percent (381,791) of San Diego County’s foreign-born population resides in the Northern region, according to 2021 figures.
  • Approximately 400,000 people in San Diego County had limited proficiency in English, and more than 100 languages are spoken by county residents, according to the most recent available Census data
  • Data reports from the San Diego County Resettlement Agencies indicate that between October 1, 2018, through September 2023, the county resettled 12,687 newly arrived refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders.

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