A dozen people stand holding up a blue banner that reads "Refugees Welcome" in large white letters.
Activists hold a banner during a pro-refugee demonstration organized by HIAS outside the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 14, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Aaron P. Bernstei-Getty Images)

AB 1368 will ensure the health, safety and dignity of those granted asylum

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These days, it can feel as if making a difference is harder than ever, especially on issues as intractable as immigration. But thanks to work by hundreds of activists, California is on track to become the first state in the nation to introduce case management services for people granted asylum.

Assembly Bill 1368, introduced by Assemblymember Lisa Calderon, a Democrat from Whittier, would create the Enhanced Services for Asylees and Vulnerable Noncitizens program. ESAVN would enable California’s network of resettlement agencies to get state funding to provide case management for those granted asylum and ensure that they get the support they need to build new lives in the Golden State.

Rabbi Sydney Mintz, a former board member of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, has served at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco since 1997.
Rabbi Sydney Mintz, a former board member of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, has served at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco since 1997.

Passed in the Assembly by a 76-0 vote on May 28, and currently moving through committees in the Senate, the bill also would aid victims of human trafficking granted visas and those seeking reunification with spouses and parents already granted green cards.

Advocates in the California Welcomes Coalition worked tirelessly this year to keep this bill moving, mobilizing with leading immigration advocacy groups to help people seeking refuge in California. The hundreds of letters, phone calls, emails and meetings with our legislators demonstrate that advocacy can work.

Although the majority of asylum-seekers at our border ultimately head elsewhere in the country, California hosts 34 percent of all those granted asylum in the United States, and this number grows, on average, by about 9,000 people each year.
While on a path to citizenship, they have limited access to federal programs such as Medi-Cal, CalFresh and Covered California because they are frequently unaware that they are eligible. Fortunately, our state’s network of 18 refugee resettlement agencies are well situated to manage these programs’ services and ensure that each person is treated with dignity.

But while resettlement agencies have long been allowed to help those granted asylum, lack of investment by the federal government has placed a burden on our state.
The ESAVN program would offer a pathway to self-sufficiency for thousands of California residents who have a unique immigration status and profound needs.
The end result? They would be connected to much-needed services, be better prepared to contribute to their communities and be further equipped to succeed as new Americans.
The most vulnerable no longer would have to rely on our strained, state-funded emergency health and housing response systems addressing other crises affecting our neighbors. Attorneys working with asylum-seekers no longer would have to act as de facto case managers for clients once they’re granted asylum, offering a much-needed reprieve on overstretched civil society.

Much support for ESVAN emanates from the American Jewish community, with its painful history of fleeing to this country to escape violent persecution, much like asylum-seekers today.

Joe Goldman is community engagement director for the Western region at HIAS.
Joe Goldman is community engagement director for the Western region at HIAS.

The end of July marked the 70th anniversary of the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention that created the refugee and asylum resettlement system in response to the events that forcibly displaced Jews and others during World War II.

Agencies like HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) have been instrumental in helping those who sought refuge by empowering them to become full-fledged U.S. citizens.

AB 1368 extends these efforts.

It is no coincidence that nearly a third of the 75 organizations mobilized by the California Welcomes Coalition represent the state’s 1 million-strong Jewish population. This diverse community, with its huge percentage of people who fled Europe after the Holocaust, the Middle East, North Africa, Iran and the former Soviet Union would be significantly smaller and less vibrant without the systems created under the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.

The majority of the 16-member California Legislative Jewish Caucus has signed on as co-authors of AB 1368.
Our state’s budget is a moral document, demonstrating our values by how we invest in our people.
We applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for including ESAVN in the budget, and we urge the Senate to swiftly pass AB 1368 to ensure the funding’s full implementation this fall.

This essay originally appeared at CalMatters.org. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

 

Rabbi Sydney Mintz
Rabbi Sydney Mintz

Rabbi Sydney Mintz is senior associate rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Joe Goldman
Joe Goldman

Joe Goldman was most recently the public affairs and civic engagement manager for San Francisco at the Jewish Community Relations Council. He now works as the senior policy associate at the national headquarters of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger in his native Los Angeles.